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My magic system: feedback needed

Discussion in 'World Building' started by DeathtoTrite, Dec 2, 2014.

  1. DeathtoTrite

    DeathtoTrite Troubadour

    Short version: Magic system isn't well defined and each instance is substantially different. I want to keep it interesting, but worry it will seem arbitrary/ deus ex machina. Just write your thoughts/reactions/experience.

    Long version (if you have time, please read): So, my world doesn't really have much magic. In one city, men buy slaves whose blood they drink to live forever. In one mountain ranges, huge tunnels delve miles below the surface, where riches abound. In one desert, an immortal spirit protects his people from more advanced intruders. So magic is there, but it doesn't have some well-defined structure (like how Christopher Paolini made his series) and it is the exception rather than the rule.

    For most characters, magic is either A)religion/lore/tales of distant lands or B) political issue, with how society treats these few individuals more important than what they can do. They can't raze cities or defeat armies. They can be effective assassins, generals, and leaders, though.

    The closet thing I have to a general purpose spell-caster is a group of people kind of like psychics. The hope is to avoid predictable patterns and keep things generally interesting without having to resort to increasingly elaborate tricks. The fear is that it comes off as confusing and/or arbitrary. Suggestions/thoughts?
  2. FarmerBrown

    FarmerBrown Troubadour

    Sounds like my "system" ;-) One of my beta readers told me I needed to define my magic system better, but I resisted. I felt like it wasn't a system at all, just an element of life in my world. Very few people have the talent/inclination to use magic (aside from the magical immortal entities that the regular folks worship as gods) and they pretty much stick together. Some are helpful and can be persuaded to assist in the affairs of the regular folks, while others cause problems, and others just want to be left alone to roam or study. Most people try not to get in their way but just accept that they exist.

    Magic, to me, is predictable in that a person with magic will likely use it to (a)solve their problems or (b)get what they want. That's a given. So, it's difficult for me, as a reader and writer, to find magical displays arbitrary if they accomplish either a or b. Arbitrary displays of magic COULD be used as a cue for mental instability in the caster or foreshadow, though.

    I guess I'm not the best person to respond, because I think what you have is fine!
  3. Ayaka Di'rutia

    Ayaka Di'rutia Troubadour

    Since you have so many different groups using a higher form of power, persay, I would suggest all of their forms of power having the same source. Drinking blood, incredible architectural feats, powers of deity --- all of those powers can derive from one source of magic.

    In my fantasy universe, there are different forms of magic users -- witches, sorcerers, etc. -- whose magic manifests itself in different ways, but the magic comes from the same source and is the same in its basic nature no matter the magic user.

    Keep it simple, I say :)
  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    If it's not fully worked out, it's not yet a system. It's an idea, or a collection of ideas. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but precision with words is part of our craft.

    What you want to do is 1) decide if you really do want to work out a whole system; 2) if so, then decide when you're done. Otherwise, you may find yourself tinkering with your system but never actually writing stories.

    Before anyone weights in, I do understanding that one never works out a system fully. It's always in progress. But there's a difference between trying to work out a consistent set of rules, backstory, etc., and simply including whatever the story happens to need at that point.
  5. DeathtoTrite

    DeathtoTrite Troubadour

    Sorry for the confusion, but this is the question I had about my system/idea- it has no over-arching consistent set of rules or backstory. To people in this world, its almost like another aspect of geography or culture. Its random and unpredictable from place to place. And how I do THAT without being arbitrary or "oh, check it out- local priests are capable of igniting fires spontaneously- how convenient for the plot" is what I'm not sure about.
  6. spectre

    spectre Sage

    I think that maybe you need more to focus on the capabilities of the races of people than the systemetic nature of magic because of the range of availability. the source sounds inborn in the blood drinking instance, perhaps only to those who know how to do it like the vampire experiments in blade. at the same time if your following the god man man sort of path then there is a stemological point there for inborn magical-ness there too. geography as god creates planet as well. so if you wanted to inborn tendency is a source and that isn't the case in all novels, in the wheel of time some can wield the power some can't, the same with star wars, in harry potter the same thing. the inclination to use magic by a person though is often a major part of their character of course.

    but I digressed. in focusing on magic as an inborn tendency, you can then move on to ritual or invoking variances and thus political attitude, based on resources (geography, religious endowment, or magic food --) and similarly the political attitudes that evolve from there as religion is not the same as cult is not the same as native attachment to the land or civil engineering of it so there is a variety to be had both in the way people lead their lives, and then how they choose to perform magical feats. but the system you described sounds holistic, it has many possibilities and so" this is how each society has manifested their use of magic".
  7. K.S. Crooks

    K.S. Crooks Inkling

    When it comes to any type of special abilities, whether you call it magic, super powers or something else I think it is important for the author to know which characters can obtain the powers, how they get them, can the power be taken away, what are the limitations of the magic/power and what can other characters do to defeat the ones with powers. to me it is all about being able to defeat powers, whether they are being used for good or evil, otherwise the person with them always wins, which means a boring story.
    Start with what you want your characters to be able to do and the goals they have, then think about the obstacles you want them to have them face. The more powerful you make the magic/powers the more important the ways to counter it are. Hope this helps.
  8. When I think of magic systems i genera use as a guide Sandersons laws of magic. Of which there are 4 (well three and a threshold consideration)

    Sanderson’s First Law of Magics: An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.

    Sanderson’s Second Law of Magic:Limitations > Powers

    Sanderson’s Third Law of Magic: Expand what you already have before you add something new.

    Sanderson’s Threshold Condideration: err on the side of what's awesome.

    For the purposes of this discussion we'll focus on the first law. This point I feel is most salient because using a poorly defined magic feels like deus ex machina, since the solution is not properly set up in the preceding text. Sanderson has an essay for each of these points and I'm not in a position to explain much more. However with this guidance I always ask the question: Do I want my magic to solve problems? If I want myalgic to solve problems I must explain it so the reader is not cheated. Therefore, I ask of you, what do you want this magic to do?
  9. Zāl Dastān

    Zāl Dastān Dreamer

    First, I'd like to say that Brian's advice is excellent. Keeping the narrative role of magic in mind is a must, I think.

    I just wanted to add that you might not necessarily need to outright explain in detail the laws that magic obeys. If, instead, you just make things follow said laws consistently, readers will ideally figure things out a bit on their own and feel less cheated.
    Garren Jacobsen likes this.
  10. evanator66

    evanator66 Minstrel

    Nice system, seems a teensy bit overpowered. Does the magic follow any sort of equivalent exchange system or something similar? Does the power actually come from anywhere or is it just there? How is magic channeled? Are any special abilities required to channel magic?

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