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Magic System: Assistance please?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Christopher Michael, Jan 17, 2017.

  1. Christopher Michael

    Christopher Michael Troubadour

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    My current WIP is a combination Urban and High Fantasy. I have Daemon, Djinn, Vampyr (the Elder Children), Vampire (the Younger Children), Elves.... basically, all of the typical fantasy creatures.

    Anyway, I'm working on a somewhat complicated magic system. I'm working under the concept of Rune Magic, Blood Magic, and Specie Specific Magic, and Innate Magic.

    Specie Magic is, obviously, the magic native to a specific species. Sirens, for instance, have the magic in themselves to cause people to do what they want. Their voice, eyes, physical touch...all of it combines to create a desired effect. Every magical/fantastic race has a power or group of powers that is part of their nature.

    Innate Magic, sometimes also called Wild Magic, is magic that fits into no other notable category. It isn't something found throughout a species, nor is it related to either Blood or Rune magics. Rather, it is a magic that, for one reason or another, a person is born with.

    Rune Magic is utilizing magic symbols to achieve certain ends. Defense, attack, curses, blessings...all utilize runes. Most seers have runes to enable sight carved into their flesh. Most mages carry one or more runes enabling increased strength and control over their magic.

    Blood Magic is an offshoot of Rune Magic. The blood of a magical being imbues the rune with far more strength than it might otherwise be capable of. Light magic involves the willingly extracted blood of the caster to enhance wards, to strengthen healing runes. Shadow Mages do much the same, although they will also utilize their own blood to empower offensive spells or imbue armor and weapons with special traits. Dark Mages will never use their own blood. They use the sacrificial blood of any magical creature they can grab in order to add extra power to their curses and attacks.

    I've worked all of this out. What I need help with is the cost, the toll it takes.
    For instance: Uncontrolled outbursts of innate magic will absolutely exhaust the wielder, but there is no real cost to species specific magic. What other costs should I have for using Innate Magic? What about the other magics? Should there be a cost to Rune Magic? What about Blood Magic?

    I'm considering the concept that utilizing the Rune and Blood Magics for Light purposes moves you further along the spectrum towards being aligned with the Light (non aggressive, pacifistic, non-combat), where using them for Dark moves you closer to that alignment. I'm just not certain if that's enough. Or am I overthinking this?
     
  2. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Not overthinking. Working out the cost is usually pretty important. You might consider making each type of magic come with its own cost. Or, that the cost differs by race. Exhaustion is one cost. What other types can you imagine?
     
    Christopher Michael likes this.
  3. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    Your system has parallels to mine.

    Most wizards (human, goblin, couple other races) in my system have what you term 'innate magic,' the result of long ago genetic work by a now mostly departed alien race. It's weak. Wimpy. I pretty much took what the old line, real world PSI researchers were looking into, and used it as a template. And using it does exhaust the wizard in question.

    For 'Species Magic,' I have elves, fey, demons, and assorted Lovecraftian abominations. What these creatures all have in common is that they, or at least their 'Souls' do not belong in the material realm. Their power comes from their 'true home.' They are capable of far more impressive magical acts than 'Innate' types - as long as the connection to their 'true home' remains. (Elves, in my worlds, are alien souls transferred by the ancient aliens into human bodies that became altered as a result. Elves are also 'trapped' - just barely capable of touching their 'true home.' Something similar might work for you.

    With straight Rune Magic, the key is the amount of mystic energy required to imbue the rune with power in the first place. The (innate) mage so doing takes a substantial (temporary) hit to his power.

    Blood Magic is a bit trickier. I have wizards who use the sacrifice of sapient beings to conjure and placate powerful demons and Lovecraftian abominations in exchange for a share of their power, but the price here is a trick: the wizards interests become aligned with those of the entity in question, and eventually the mage becomes a puppet of said entity - and quite possibly utterly insane as well.

    I would suggest ever growing insanity as a price for Blood Magic in your system: acknowledged to be powerful, but risky to ones mental state.
     
    Christopher Michael likes this.
  4. Christopher Michael

    Christopher Michael Troubadour

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    I'm not ignoring the advice and questions. I'm trying to work out the magic system. It's trickier than I thought. lol
    Especially since I'm trying to alter the specific costs from magic type to magic type.
     
  5. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    I like playing devil's advocate, so let me ask... Why do they need costs?
     
  6. Christopher Michael

    Christopher Michael Troubadour

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    Because power without cost makes bad fiction, imho.
     
    DragonOfTheAerie likes this.
  7. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    Not necessarily. I think it depends on how big an impact these powers have on the story. If it's game changing and can alter the course of events then yes it shouldn't be something that the user can wield without consequence. If it's merely someone being able to create a small fireball to start a campfire then the consequences aren't really that important.
     
    Russ likes this.
  8. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    I think this is turning into a really interesting discussion.

    I would suggest the question that might help you get to the answer you want is just what are you trying to do with your magic system? What is it for? What does it mean?

    Some people world build like they are designing a game. The need a system with checks and balances, almost akin to points, so that the magic system seems fair and balanced, useful but not overpowering. I am not convinced that is the best approach. I fully concede that it is workable but I think a writer can do better.

    You can do better by understanding what your book is about and designing your magic system to support and enhance that. So if one of the themes of your work is "there is always a price to be paid for power" than you can build your magic around that. IF one of your themes is that "compromise of principles can lead to a slippery slope" than having mages summon demons and negotiate contracts with them can be a good idea. Or you can imagine what you might design into a magic system if one of your themes is respect for the natural world.

    This is one of the aspects of fantasy writing that gives the genre such literary power. Think about if you are trying to write a modern day thriller with similar themes. The tools of the characters give much less opportunity to deliver a message or a meaning. Whether the character choses to use .50, 7.62, 9mm, or an RPG doesn't tell us much about the human condition or a theme worth exploring (it can tell you a little about the character). In a fantastic setting you have the power to design the very tools the character uses such that they reflect the deepest themes of your WIP.

    I think this is an opportunity one should take advantage of.
     
  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    So far, my magic system does not have costs. This is in part because there is no system. I've got some ideas. I have a couple of underlying principles, but I'm leaving everything fluid.

    One advantage is the particular nature of my world, in which I tell stories scattered across centuries. This lets my magic have a history, and one advantage of that is the people using the magic don't really understand it. They experience it. They try to figure it out. I view it like the development of medical knowledge. There were all sorts of ideas and "knowledge" that was flat wrong. At the same time, doctoring worked often enough that people kept going back to doctors. Some of the ideas were only partially wrong. And so on. So I have story explanations for how things work that a later story would say were incorrect.

    This lets me act as a bit of an unreliable narrator. I can invent explanations, not to mislead my reader (note the singular) but to add depth and color. At some point I probably will invent an system or two, but it will be like the Ptolemaic system--somewhat right but also disconcertingly wrong on certain points.

    But the bottom line in practical terms is that magic doesn't work reliably. Maybe some people do get worn out (or burned up!), but they do so in unpredictable ways (meaning when the author wants it), and it may or may not signify.

    Just offering another approach, for your consideration.
     
  10. buyjupiter

    buyjupiter Maester

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    I'm playing with a low level magic system that when it does backfire, rare tho that is, it can have catastrophic costs. It's fun, but challenging. Because at some point if low level magicks can be that disastrous then no one but sociopaths would use it and that's a whole nother story.

    More to the OPs questions...I'd streamline the magic system. As a reader anything that gets this level of classification (or Tolkeinesque in detail) & I'm out of the story. I read Tolkien's notes as a writer, not a reader.
     
  11. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    I'm treating magic partly as a reflection of science, partly as a spiritual path with supernatural elements. I'm putting in such topics as human cloning for example. Something you'd be more likely to find in sci-fi. Then you have the more traditional magical traits, such as the power to wield the elements as a weapon or for protection, the ability to raise and control the dead, summon and control demons, etc. You also have more ESP related abilities like telepathy, clairvoyance, telekinesis, etc.

    I'm treating the consequences as coinciding with the increase in the power a spell has, as well as the difficulty to cast it. But if a character continues to practice that particular discipline they can adapt somewhat to the strain it puts on them, similar to how an athlete's body adapts to physical stress. This also justifies why mortals are restricted to how powerful they can become, because they obviously have shorter lifespans than those that can live the equivalent of several mortal lifetimes, or are immortal.
     
  12. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    One piece of advice I can offer is that the more in depth a magic system becomes, such as how much detail is given to explain how it works, the more criticism you can expect to receive. The more "realistic" it becomes, the more people will nitpick it and ask for more in depth explanations. You can paint yourself into that ever present corner where the only answer left is "It's a fantasy novel, just go with it."

    This is also where research can become a double-edged sword. You research a topic, let's say physics, or chemistry, get a layman's grasp on it and then throw it into your magic system. Inevitably some nerd is going to come along and call you out on it if what you've written has any flaws. Remember who your target audience is when it comes to fantasy or science fiction. People love the world building aspects but can also be notorious critics of even the smallest detail.
     
  13. Christopher Michael

    Christopher Michael Troubadour

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    Magic is the primary power source of this reality. It's used fairly constantly.
     
  14. Christopher Michael

    Christopher Michael Troubadour

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    Yeah. That's not going to happen. lol
    I need this magic system. The "species specific" won't ever get mentioned, because it's just "who they are." Vampires have to feed on blood, and their bite creates (in my reality) both other vampires and zombies. Sirens use their voice and touch to...do what Sirens do (let's keep this at least PG-13). Pegasi fly. So forth and etc. It won't be really dealt with because, although yes it is magic (and that is something I, as the writer, need to know), it's also just part of belonging to that race.

    With rune magic, I'm dealing with something that is ritualized and understood. People are trained in this. You don't just carve/draw a rune, mutter a chant, and Bob's your uncle. That's a good way, I'm thinking, to either end up a gibbering imbecile, or to have your body parts reformed to decorate various parts of the room. (Maybe not, quite, that severe. But I'm certain untrained use of rune magic is a very bad idea.)
    And with rune magic, it needs understood that every person has a rune that is their rune alone. It represents them, their essence. Most children are given this rune by a priest/priestess/mage after they enter their species' analogue of puberty. This rune can not be made known, because I'm playing with the "to know someone's name is to have power over them" conceit. If I know your specific rune, I can utilize it in rune magic to either control you (likely requiring blood magic) or curse you. However, wedding unions (Binding Ceremonies in most cultures) require a special binding rune designed to unite the your rune with that of your spouse. (Yes. Complicated. I don't do uncomplicated world building, if I can help it. lol)
    Blood magic is essentially rune magic, but enhanced by living blood. (There are certain types of blood magic, generally communicative in nature, that don't require living blood.) Although some races (Sirens, especially, because of lore reasons) incorporate blood magic into their binding ceremonies, most consider blood magic to be a very black magic. It isn't, and that will likely be explored by my protag, but it's considered to be. That's probably because black mages absolutely love blood magic, probably because it allows them to sacrifice people- virgins, harlots, young, old, women, men...they're not exactly particular.
    I also know that an aspect of blood magic is used to carve runes directly into the flesh. This is a variant that has the potential to go very badly wrong- insanity, death, undeath, homicidal rage, all that good stuff.
     
  15. Christopher Michael

    Christopher Michael Troubadour

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    Yeah, I understand that. It's annoying, but I get it. The thing is, I'm not trying to get a handle on my magic system for my eventual (hopeful) readers. 99% of the information won't appear in the book. But just because they don't need to know the detailed explanation of my magic system, doesn't mean I don't need to know it. Does that make sense?
     
  16. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    Absolutely. I approach things the same way, especially in regards to history, societal changes or collapses, etc.
     
    Christopher Michael likes this.
  17. Ooo, I love thinking about these things.

    In one of my WIP's (which i've set aside), the magic system is centered around the idea of superpowers. Everyone in this world is born with one innate power. The powers grow in strength with age and practice.

    Basically the whole concept is that all the powers have devastating costs, and are capable of destroying their users. Most of the story is about the characters combating their powers and the damage they cause. In my world, having powers sucks. It's a gift and a curse. So I think about this a lot. Here are some of the 'costs' that appear:

    1. The power can kill you. Many of my powers can kill you if overstretched. (Is driving the user to suicide a subcategory of this?) The healing power is especially high risk for this, since healers essentially transfer the effects of an injury onto themselves.

    2. The power is extremely painful (or unpleasant) to use. There are many like this as well, including the MC's.

    3. The power is hard to control. For the most part, this applies when someone who's mentally or emotionally unstable has a power. The power will begin to overwhelm them and slip their grasp. however, many powers are naturally difficult to control, responding to the user's thoughts and emotions rather than the user's will.

    4. The power causes loss of sanity or has a significant toll on the mental health of the user. Some of my powers actually mimic mental illnesses/disorders (I have a handful of them myself, so it's interesting to me) whereas some simply waste the mind or happiness. One of my MC's experiences voices and hallucinations and sleepwalks due to his powers, which can be dangerous. For another, which is basically heightened memory/learning ability--the ability to process and store information at supernatural speed, capacity and retention--I decided it could have similar effects to aspects of autism and/or Pure OCD. So, very fascinating.

    5. The power causes a significant toll on physical health. There are a lot of short-term consequences to overstretching your powers: nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, fainting spells, headaches (sometimes migraine-like with aura) ...but some powers have a long term effect. They waste the body. Some powers might take up so much energy the user is always thin and exhausted, as if having recovered from a long illness.

    6. The powers have way too much potential to hurt people. The powers to control emotions (each emotion has a separate power), inflict pain, inflict wounds telekinetically...yeah.

    7. The powers are extremely destructive/disastrous if misused. Powers over fire are, like, the most innocuous of all the powers i've included. But you can set yourself on fire, set your friends on fire, set the city on fire...

    8. Forgot this one: Powers can be dangerously addictive. This isn't really power-specific in my world, so you can get addicted to any power, depending on what's emotionally satisfying and rewarding. Of course, you'd start wanting to become more powerful in this case, and use your powers more dramatically...in which case all the costs would be wreaked upon you many times worse.

    These are just mine...maybe it will provide some inspiration.
     
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2017
    Christopher Michael likes this.
  18. shangrila

    shangrila Inkling

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    Some thoughts and questions;
    Does this limit them to that specific form of magic or is this species based magic on top of the other kinds you have?

    To go further with the "wild" magic, perhaps this magic is power in it's rawest form. It could be wild, near uncontrollable, but far more powerful than the other types that may be more subdued and easily controlled.

    I know you said Innate magic wasn't tied to anything else but, to continue what I was talking about above, perhaps runes are a way of attempting to control this innate magic? By giving it strict rules and guidance the magic can be channeled in the way that the caster wants much more easily.

    Also, if the magic is tied more to the rune than the actual person using it then perhaps this is a way to give people without natural magic the ability to use some.

    I don't really have anything for this specifically, but perhaps you could add more things that are able to "enhance" runes rather than just blood? Other bodily fluids (kind of gross, I know, but just a thought) or solutions, like mercury or something might have different effects. You could even have something, like mercury say, that would nullify whatever rune it touches.

    In regards to the species magic, perhaps there isn't really a cost? It doesn't have to be magic honestly. A siren, to use your example, might emit some type of pheromone that causes people to become more suggestible. I can imagine vampires might be naturally strong as well, for example.
    I'll just reiterate what I said above and say it should be hard to control. Powerful but just as likely to burn the wielder as their foe.
    You could make them limited use, needing to be recharged after use. And/or have them take a long time to make so people are less willing to use them without good cause.
    This definitely needs a cost. Something physical makes the most sense but, for something different, what if every drop of blood you use for magic can't be regained (i.e. your body doesn't replace the lost blood cells?).

    This sounds a bit too RPG for my tastes so I'd say, in this one case, you probably are overthinking it. But if you can integrate it into your story then I think it's possible.
     
    Christopher Michael likes this.
  19. Christopher Michael

    Christopher Michael Troubadour

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    No. Most species (save animals and a handful of "rabid" species such as the zombies) are capable of utilizing one or more other magics.

    Interesting concept. I suspect there is some truth to this one. I'll have to give it some thought.

    This is definitely true. A lot of the users of rune magic do not have "wild" magic (innate), and a good many are humans who have no specie specific magic.

    Most definitely not going to utilize other bodily fluids. lol Just...not sure I'm willing to go there with this story.
    On the other hand, the concept of a "rune neutralizer" is intriguing. Not sure it fits the story, but definitely an interesting concept I'm going to have to consider.

    If creatures such as the previously mentioned sirens were the only magical entity, this might be an option. However, I have (among others) Vampires (spelled both this way, for the Second Children, and as Vampyr for the First Children- the elders of the clans), Djinn, Daemons, and the Fae. These are inherently magical species in my lore. I do agree that there need not be any particular cost. After all, this magic is inherent to the creature itself, so is no different from you or I utilizing our physical muscles, or pumping blood.
     
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