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Magic: Will or Wands?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Zahantian, Apr 19, 2011.

  1. Zahantian

    Zahantian Acolyte

    Lately I've been struggling to come to grips with a viable (as viable as fantasy can be) magic system that I like. It seems like you can go down one of two routes:

    magical person + intention (will) = magic


    magical person + spells/wands/incantations blah blah blah = magic

    While the first seems to be much less cliched than the second, I'm still eager to somehow incorporate the more traditional magic system into my story (magical script possibly). How could you make the typically cliched spell-ish magic into something a little more modern?

    I'm a great believer in two, three, four-hundred and sixty-seven heads are better than one and would appreciate any ideas you lovely people can think of. :D
  2. Amanita

    Amanita Maester


    it's hard to give any advice without knowing more about the kind of magic you have in mind.

    The combination of wands and spells makes me think of Harry Potter right away even though it has surely been around far longer than that. ;) It's not that common in alternate world fantasy though. I don't really like the Harry Potter-perspective that magicians are completely dependent on their wands even though it was necessary as a limitation in that story.
    The good thing about this is that it makes powerful descriptions of fighting scenes and attacks easier than only will-powered magic. X points his wand at Y and opens his mouth invoces similar feelings to a weapon and makes it easier for the reader to feel the threatening situation than will-powered magic with no signs or warning.

    You might be able to use will power only for quick and simple spells while more difficult ones require the studying of magical books and reciting of incantations.
    Besides that I can't offer you much more without knowing what kind of magic you have in mind. Inborn, "general" magic similar to Harry Potter? Magic like Psi-powers. (These work best with will alone). Elemental powers? Powers fed by some "sources" of magic existing in your world? Necromancy? Magic fuelled by demons? The latter two might require more complicated summoning and binding rites at some point.

    In my own story the magicians need to have a bit of their element with them or inside them if possible. Then they don't need anything besides will-power to use their magic.
    For uses of magic where greater groups of people cooperate or where someone is supposed to use magic generated by someone else, there are rituals, incantations and various special things including staffs used in the rituals. Most of them only have symbolical purposes though or help them focus.
  3. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

    (1) Don't use Latin.
    (2) Don't use fake Latin either. ;)

    Beyond that… how magic works is a choice you need to make for yourself. Though an equally good question to ask is why magic works. Is an incantation magical in itself, so that anyone reading it correctly gets the desired result? (This is most common in cautionary tales, particularly ones involving summoning demons–in which case, perhaps it should be "the undesired result".… :eek: ) Does a wand go off automatically as long as you swish it about the right way and perhaps utter a word of command or two? Are there magical materials that, when manipulated properly (combined, burned, swallowed, banged together, jitterbugged upon, etc.), produce certain effects?

    Note that none of the above require a "magical person," necessarily. Option two is that the above work only if they are done by such an individual, and will not work for the typical mundane. So the "why" here is that there is something special about the person, but there is also something special about the various spell elements, and it requires both for the magic to take place.

    Option three is that magic is an act of the will–usually but not always the trained will–and does not require anything external. Which does not mean that external elements can't contribute. It might be necessary to "consume" something in order to generate the magical energy… and if the caster doesn't provide anything to serve this purpose, what is consumed is part of the caster's own energy/physique. Or the external apparatus might act as a focus for the caster's will–scrying devices such as crystal balls, mirrors or decks of cards are common examples; or they might act as a focus for the magical energy itself, in the same way crystals focus light to make lasers: wands and staves are probably the paradigm examples here. Incantations, rituals, group workings, music (drumming is popular) and so on can also act as foci; perhaps these are necessary to create the correct mental disposition in the caster's mind… they "reshape" the will in order to allow it to shape the world, and the caster can't get into the correct frame of mind, or at least not as readily, without their use. (Psychoactive chemicals also fit well here.) External apparatus might also serve to bind a spell to make it permanent, or at least readily available, allowing the caster to "stack" or "hang" spells about himself for later use: wands again, or amulets, articles of clothing, small objects or containers that get thrown/crushed/whatever, etc.

    As for making it "modern," that depends on what you mean by the word: I'm guessing you mean giving it a modern feel, not making it fit into a modern as opposed to a fantastic setting. In some ways, giving magic any "rationale" at all will do this, no matter what details you select. One example I've given elsewhere is to have magic obey–in a very general, unquantified way–the physical laws of conservation of mass/energy, which, very briefly, state that energy (or mass) can neither be created nor destroyed, only changed in form/state. In this case, "magical" energy doesn't come out of nowhere: it needs to be drawn from something, and what the caster is doing is drawing it out–essentially "sacrificing" something–changing its form through his will (perhaps with the aid of foci), and releasing it again. Considering just how much energy would be released if even something as small as a pebble were to be converted entirely into energy (remember e=mc2?), it's not like there isn't plenty of energy available to do this with; the question then becomes how much the caster can manipulate at once without consuming his own resources–potentially destroying himself in the attempt. This approach combines well with sympathetic magic: the energy is drawn from something similar to or connected with the desired effect or with the target, and trying for the same effect without such a "connection" is either far more difficult or outright impossible. This can be further combined with incantations, etc. to create the psychological disposition required to "re-imagine" the world to correspond with the caster's intent. Net effect: you have a physical "explanation" (the total amount of energy in the world must be maintained as a constant), a psychological one (there is no underlying reality, the world is as we perceive it), and three traditional magical elements (incantations, sympathy/correlation, and sacrifice) combined into a single quasi-"scientific" system–that's still more than flexible enough you don't need to give detailed explanations or perform rigorous calculations each time you want something to happen. (Though it would be interesting if rigorous calculations were required on the caster's part, at least if he wanted to perform an operation safely: maybe all those complicated formulae in ancient alchemical tomes were naive precursors gesturing toward what Einstein finally summarized in that one elegant equation.… :cool: )
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  4. Telcontar

    Telcontar Staff Moderator

    I strongly dislike Harry Potter's system of wands - how can you call anyone powerful if you render them useless by taking away their twig? I know this isn't quite how it is, but still.

    Generally I would say that props such as wands, staves, scrolls, etc should be used to HELP the magician, not to allow him to do anything at all.

    Not sure what you mean by 'modernizing,' and Ravana already covered a lot of the paths there. Modernizing means improving by using the latest methods - these are discovered by trial and error as well as analysis. In other words, scientifically. If your magic is simply 'another science' as so often happens, then you can follow the same routes as humans have been taking for thousands of years, and invent a multitude of tools and processes by which your magic users improve their skill.
  5. Fnord

    Fnord Troubadour

    I can't remember which Final Fantasy game it was (or if I'm even remembering it correctly), but one of them had these things that were like crystals that you could mix or match them to create effects. I always thought the idea of using these sorts of "lens" which you had focus raw energy through to create desired effects was an interesting twist (if not a completely original idea).
  6. Zahantian

    Zahantian Acolyte

    I came across ideas to do with crystals too (I think from Atlantic mythology- another ever cool hobby of mine). Suppose there is no such thing as an original idea, just original takes on them. Thanks for taking the time to comment :)
  7. Zahantian

    Zahantian Acolyte

    I didn't explain my question very well I don't think. Rather than suggesting 'wands' literally, I just meant it as a metaphor for formulaic magic (i couldn't resist a bit of alliteration, as is always my downfall -> 'Will or Wands').

    I've always loved reading books with looser magic systems, the idea of intention as a driving force of magic is always interesting to me (I'm a big fan of Eddings, for example). BUT I want to add a twist to the magic in my story, and here is where the bonus bits, such as crystals, come in.

    Thanks for the great ideas, and thanks especially to Ravana who I presume had very sore fingertips from typing that response ;)
  8. It doesn't need to be viable. It really doesn't. You're writing fantasy. The only limits are your imagination. If conforming to reality is your main concern then write historical fiction. Otherwise, do what thou wilt.:)
  9. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

    Naah… that's only middling-length for me. :rolleyes: You're quite welcome.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  10. Blue Wizard

    Blue Wizard Dreamer

    A type of magic I like (and a rare type at that) is 'naming'. Anyone can use naming magic, because all you need to know is the 'true' name of something to command it. For example; say you have a guy who knows the true name of fire surrounded by some thugs. He calls out the name and fire springs from void to do his bidding. Of course, those who already know the words don't scare their secrets easily, and finding them by other means wouldn't be a pick nick either.
  11. sashamerideth

    sashamerideth Maester

    I am a fan of the idea that magic is a thing of will, and that a wand is used as a crutch or something to use to focus the mind. As I am building my world, my magic has strict rules, the idea I have, and I know I have read it somewhere else, achieving something by magical means would require the same effort as doing it by hand. So far, I have throwing a rock by magic uses as many calories as throwing it by hand.

    Have figured out how bigger things are done, and it makes magic on a large scale a bit of a dark thing.
  12. Behelit

    Behelit Troubadour

    Between the two, will vs wands, I'd have to lean towards wands; More so the general idea of requiring a reagent of sorts than wands specifically. Not only because it limits the usage of magic but it also, like mentioned above, provides a greater depth of description.
  13. kiercoria99

    kiercoria99 Dreamer

    Clarifying (to yourself) the point or the position magic holds in relation to your world, society, characters and plot will help you define the best type of magic (will vs. object) for your story and world. What do you need magic to do - is it limiting (only certain people have access) or is it inclusive (any can access it)? Based on that, it may begin to create itself, it's strengths and limitations that fit into your world and story.
  14. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

    Not the sort of person you want to be sitting next to when he's drunk.… :eek:
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  15. Donny Bruso

    Donny Bruso Sage

    Personally I tend to land somewhere in the middle. I really don't like wand magic, for the simple reason that if you lose it, get it stolen, broken, etc; you are now screwed until you can obtain a replacement. Somehow I think it might be a little more complex than a jaunt down to the corner store. "Yes, I'd like the +20 charisma polished cherry wand, I have a date tonight and they need some sweet talking."

    Granted you would think this would encourage wizards/mages to keep track of their wands, but if theres one thing the army has taught me, is that someone is always going to be that guy. You know that guy. The one who comes to the softball game without his glove? The one who comes to the track meet without his shoes? Comes to drill without his uniform boots? Yeah. That guy.

    People don't change, so in any group of wizards there is always going to be that guy, and while sure it works for an added degree of character depth, and maybe plot movement, its a weakness in the system that I can't condone in my writing.

    I tend to gravitate more towards will magic in a general sense, where perhaps the wizard needs only utter a word of command, or a brief phrase, or simply focus his intent for most common and perhaps some of the middlingly complex spells. However, I feel that the more complex the magic; for example removing the ugly from you next door neighbor's annoying kid that won't stop pestering you for a subscription to Better Towers and Cloakrooms, there should be components required. Perhaps nothing as esoteric as eye of newt (since John Cleese has proven that newts get better, and really if it were in high demand, people would be breeding and raising newts) but there should be more to it than simply speaking/gesturing for the truly high level spells.

    You are now $0.02 richer. Try not to go overboard with it. Cheers.
  16. Timothy Martell

    Timothy Martell Acolyte

    i have always been one to enjoy a blend of both wands and will.
    of course not just the wands holding the power. but the user using it as a focal point for the arcane powers of the world around them. having to use items to create the effect that they character wants to produce creates an essence of needing to know something to produce something.
    such as using components like others before me had said. it is a good idea to me due to the fact that it seems the person had to search for them, making the spell they unleash seem...more satisfying.
    the use of one own will to create magic seems to me to lean more on the side of psychic ability to manipulate the energy around said person.

    thats just my view on it
  17. Hans

    Hans Sage

    A rather old version of magic that does not neccessarily use wands but all other imaginable sorts of rituals is "calling the spirits". The caster can't do much by himself, he just knows what kind of spirits are to call for what job.
    This also can used as a balancing tool, when the more powerful spirits are increasingly dangerous and hard to control.

    One example of this would be the poem "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" which I think most of you will know at least in the Disney version. That were rather weak spirits, but it went badly wrong.
    An other more modern example is used by Michael Moorcock in at east some of his novels where all magic is summoning elementals, animal spirits and chaos gods.
  18. journeyman

    journeyman Acolyte

    If I understand correctly, you prefer the power+intent style of magic but want to integrate some of the more traditional elements in a somewhat fresh way. Correct me if I'm wrong. I agree with the above post that implementing basic thermodynamics is a good start to a more modern feel. That brings you to the question of where the power comes from. If the power comes from an external intelligent source (gods/demons/ect) then invocations make an appropriate trigger phrase (verbal component). If the power comes from the mage personally, than some sort of proportional exhaustion or even weight loss for the mage reinforces the idea that using magic take serious effort and keeps things semi-realistic. L.E. Modesitt Jr uses this variation to great effect in both the Spellsong Cycle and the Magic of Recluse series. If the mage draws the energy from the environment or elsewhere, adding appropriate atmospherics gives the impression that physical rules are being followed in the background (ambient temperatures could drop and fires be extinguished if the mage uses heat as an energy source, while the reverse could be true if he draws the power from elsewhere and serves as an imperfect conduit for it).

    Gestures (somatic components) can be modernized as the equivalent of hotkeys or input for command parameters. For example, the Kekkaishi (barrier masters) in the manga of the same name point to a location to "Set" the barrier's starting point and then use an invocation and gesture to define the height/width/depth of the barrier as it is created. A more elaborate example can be found in the Deathgate Cycle where one very powerful mage casts his spells in a manner similar to dancing. A section in the back of the book actually defines the various parameters of the spells and maps them to the eight directions, with the movement of his arms and legs essentially serving to define the spell being created as if he was selecting options off of a series of radial menus. This sort of computational logic gives a fairly unique combination of the traditional appearance of a spell being cast and a modern mentality. It plays to best effect in systems where unintended consequences and miscast spells are a risk.

    Continuing in that line of thought, focusing objects or material components can still be used even if they aren't a source of the magic. For a more modern perspective on the fancy robe, circles/pentagrams, and odd chemical requirements (bat guano anyone?), you can treat them as safety precautions against spell feedback/blowback/overload/ect. Using items as a way to safely channel, store, or "sink" excess energy still leaves your mages free to use magic without their usual toolkit but adds an element of risk to it. I can't claim credit for originating the idea, but I don't remember the name of the short story for Dragonlance where Raistlin learned to ignore material components.

    So, to bring together the above thoughts into a single example...

    Mage Randall wants to throw a fireball. He starts with an invocation to establish a connection to the source of his power and rotates his casting hand to draw an improvised containment circle to restrain the flames while he gathers the power. When the power gathered hits his limit he directs the overflow to his other hand, which is holding an object with a high heat storage capacity. It begins to glow as the excess energy is forced into it. Then he snaps his fingers to release the circle and points at his target ("shooting" the fireball). The air around him ripples with released heat and he suddenly feels dehydrated and short of breath after pushing his limit like that. A split second thereafter, his target explodes.

    More information on exactly what source/type/scale/ect of magic you want to use would be helpful for reference. I greatly enjoy brainstorming and working out the kinks in this kind of thing. I hope some of that helps.
    Last edited: May 19, 2011
  19. UnionJane

    UnionJane Scribe

    You might also consider Tamora Pierce's approach to magic. She separated magic into two systems--academic and ambient. She had a bias towards the ambient mages, which was based off inner will and principles of meditation and mental control. The fun part was watching these systems occasionally conflict.
  20. BeigePalladin

    BeigePalladin Sage

    Brothers in arms, in case you where still wondering :D

    I like the system of aids being a help, not a requirement, as I think it's a rather realistic one. I just can't see any magical exclusivity if it's the stick doing the casting - it makes no sense then, that eveeryone can't pick up the same stick and cast magic.

    so I'm in favour of a merger between traditional and will-based, where one can help t'other, and vice verce - it also lets more people in on the magic - since even if they can't cast normally, they could use said wand to zap things, and someone using both together would have far greater proficiency.

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