Problems with a hard magic system

Discussion in 'World Building' started by ScaryMJDiamcreep, Oct 10, 2018.

  1. ScaryMJDiamcreep

    ScaryMJDiamcreep Lore Master

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    How would it be possible to enforce a hard magic system when each mage can develop one magic of theirs to a point where they can cast it with little to no cost, apart from maybe it acting is if it were exercise. Most mages tend to choose a magic that there isn't a specialist of within day trip distance of their settlement if the fastest mode of transport is a horse, allowing them to basically use it as a signature. I pretty much see it this way: mage becomes a true master mage after achieving this state, but generally are discounted if it's thought that they were trained by a true master of that field.

    I'm struggling to find a way to keep the magic system soft enough to allow this but hard enough that it isn't a "all your problems are solved" thing.
     
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2018
  2. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Valar Lord

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    Off the top of my head, I'd say,"Make the magic very limited in scope."
    If your mage can cast as many illusions of the Lesser Yellow Spotted Fritillary Butterfly as they like, it might have some proactive uses, but it won't be a "with a leap our hero/ine was free" kind of power.
    I like soft magic that that is sort of mundane but still has a price or some sort of limitation. That could be as simple as wearing out the caster mentally or physically or needing time to get right. Add too many rules and you will have to watchout for loopholes and limitations or ignoring your own rules.
     
  3. ScaryMJDiamcreep

    ScaryMJDiamcreep Lore Master

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    Part of my problem is that I see some magics as being ones that need magic circles, and others as ones where magic circles would just get in the way. Summoning a deity or healing someone seems like the kind of magic that needs circles, but hemomancy and many of the "kinesis" type magics would be better off drawing from some kind of mana pool. And the "no cost to use" state of magic becomes hard to work out for circle-requiring magics.

    I also tend to split "kinesis" type magics into two sub-types: creator-types and manipulator-types. If a mage were to specialise in say, pyrokinesis, they'd have to choose either to be able to summon fire from nothing, or manipulate fire that already exists, but not both. Only deities would be able to do both, and they might be able to be convinced to grant the power of both to a mage, but generally they don't.
     
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2018
  4. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Valar Lord

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    It is all up to you. If you can't square the circle then you will have to rethink.
    If you want to keep the casting of a circle; could higher skill and proficiency go hand in hand with being able to use a simple circle? Until the very highest adherents just need to do a twirl of their fingers or a spin on their heels...
     
  5. ScaryMJDiamcreep

    ScaryMJDiamcreep Lore Master

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    I definitely think that summoning a deity has to remain a circle that requires the strongest of magical fuels(distilled/crystallized mana or this metal that I have be present in moon dust), partly because to summon any specific deity, there's a combination of 3 objects that's pretty much sacred to them which have to be sacrificed in the summoning, but for more simple circles I can imagine training to the point of being able to draw the circle midair using your mana pool.
     
  6. psychotick

    psychotick Dark Lord

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    Hi,

    Off the top of my head I'd say limit the scope of the magic - and yes use the exercise paradigm so that yes the mage can get stronger and maybe lift a log with his magic but never a mountain.

    In addition think about the idea of power and control. To give an example, I'm currently writing / world building a world where there are two types of casters - wizards and benders / shapers. Wizards use spells. They need words and gestures to control their magic. But they aren't so limited in scope. Bender / shapers are more natural casters. No spells or gestures, just raw will power / emotion. But they are very limited in the scope of magic they can wield. Eg my hero is a light shaper, which gives him laser beams, darkness illusions etc - all very useful - dare I say it - powers. But he can't do a healing spell or throw a fire ball for love nor money.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  7. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Mystagogue

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    Anybody can mow a lawn, but not everybody can be a turf manager at a golf course. Not everybody that can manage lawns can create a beautiful landscape. Master landscapers may not be able to cultivate a field from planting to harvest like a farmer. It's all basically about plants AND at the same time wildly different occupations.

    I see no reason why your mages wouldn't naturally develop "specialist occupations". That would be a very interesting yellow pages directory book, to say the least. Maybe a few could master more than one talent or ability, but not all. If you had a complex problem, you'd need to bring in different 'specialists' to think up an action plan (there's your circles).

    Lets say, there's been drought and an important crop isn't doing so great. You might have to call on a healer to help the plants recover, a weather-maker to lure in the rain clouds, and a pollinator-whisperer to bring in fertility to the parched area. It wouldn't be a one-and-done, they might have to work together for weeks to restore the field to pre-drought conditions and save a harvest.

    As to what individual or collective abilities come from, you'll have better luck drawing up a multi grid graph to help you sort out your "guidelines". There can be exceptions to performance and/or to the guidelines. I would hesitate to say 'rules'. But, making a magic task an exertion in someway or dangerous if taken too far, helps curve out the hard and fast rules. You *could* theoretically do and try anything, at your own risk.
     
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  8. ScaryMJDiamcreep

    ScaryMJDiamcreep Lore Master

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    The way I'm seeing it, for every field of magic, barring a few like hemomancy and necromancy, there's a couple of basic spells that just about any mage could learn, such as your basic fireball spell, but to learn more advanced fireball spells, you'd have to specialise in fire magic of the creation type, and manipulator-type mages wouldn't be able to learn the basic fireball as that is a creation-type spell. A true master of creation-type pyromancy would be able to use fire spells without any mana/fuel, but would still be able to use mana/fuel to do any of those universal spells.

    For example, the deity-summoning-circle is a spell that can be found through research, but it would still require fuel even if a true master tried to cast it. A necromancer would be able to learn the basic healing spell, which can heal small cuts and bruises, but a true master of healing magic would be able to learn the most powerful healing spells, such as the one that would be required to heal someone who had their spinal cord severed at the neck.

    Also, a deity would be able to grant use of any spell to anyone, but as training in a magic type lowers the mana cost of that spell for that mage, a spell granted in this way might be above the mage's capacity, so they'd need to utilise fuels to cast it at first.
     
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2018
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  9. FifthView

    FifthView Istari

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    What reason would each mage have for developing a certain type of magic?

    This question seems to lie at the heart of the issue, although I'm working with limited knowledge of your world so maybe the answer to the question is something that goes without saying for you.

    What I mean is this: you've said a mage might specialize a "signature" style special to their own locality. But...how does the mage choose that specialty? What motivates the mage? I can see a mage in a farm community specializing in weather manipulation, for instance. What use would fireball casting be to such a mage who lives in a rural community?

    There could be a wide range of motivations leading to a broad spectrum of specialties. Some might be related to the needs of the local community. Others might be purely artistic or aesthetic. Others might be a result of past trauma or family tradition. Others might be truly ambitious, whether for dominating surrounding communities or surpassing some legendary figure.

    Once you've decided on each mage's motivation and personal history, then you can work with the natural consequences of specialization. When one door opens, another closes. The mage who specialized in weather manipulation because this a) helped out his farming community and b) also improved his status in that community might have developed the ability through long practice but be fairly inept at trying to cast a fireball—or even inept when it comes to using weather manipulation in a combat situation, since he's never had to use it for combat. Efficiencies matter. Practice makes perfect. So mana control might be like breath control for runners: the amateurs are inefficient whereas the professionals are efficient.
     
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  10. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

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    Also, in a pre-industrial economy, 80% of everything is agriculture. So, 80% of your mages specialize in planting, harvesting, maybe weather. Doesn't make for an especially exciting story, unless you have a threshing mage suddenly have to face a dragon.

    Also, if that's the local specialist, where do I go to get the love potion? Do I have to go five villages over to get a spell that will sicken my neighbor's cow? And who is *their* threshing specialist? (I pick silly examples on purpose)

    Another thing occurs to me. What happens in a city? Or at court? There are bound to be many specialists there. Do they all get along? Is the dynamic in operation in the countryside different than in a city? Or on board ship (trust me, sailors are going to want more than just wind control)

    Inquiring minds want to know.
     
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  11. ScaryMJDiamcreep

    ScaryMJDiamcreep Lore Master

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    My problems stem mostly from wanting mages to have sort of like a signature magic, just something even slightly different about their magic that sets them apart from other mages with the same magic type. If I make the population density of mages too high, then this becomes difficult, but too low and the problems that you've raised thrive. The biggest barrier to solving my problems is how little I've gone into the mechanics of the world, as I started by laying out details for my characters first.

    The world details I've currently got set in stone are:
    Magic is present and known.
    There are a variety of deities.
    The world is at least as technologically advanced as the typical fantasy world, though I'm not decided on where to draw the line just yet.
    There is one deity that is seen as evil due to actions in the past, though he might have changed his ways.
    Werewolves are a thing.
    Hemomancy is considered forbidden magic.​
    World details I'm still unsure about:
    Whether or not to include a race of winged humans that consist exclusively of twins where each pair of twins shares a single mind.
    Opinion of society on mages.
    Opinion of mages on other mages.
    What kind of monsters and such are present to deal with.
    What other magics are considered forbidden.​
     
  12. psychotick

    psychotick Dark Lord

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    Hi,

    If it's just the signature, that should be easy enough. Say the magic interacts with the personality of the caster. So say a whether mage is a grumpy sort - maybe all his rain spells deliver biting cold rain and his wind is the same. A left handed fire mage might spin his fire balls the other way and so they leave blackened scorch marks that bend to the left instead of the right.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
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  13. ScaryMJDiamcreep

    ScaryMJDiamcreep Lore Master

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    That could work. Then you get the ones who are super unique through curse, divine blessing, or just plain stubborness. I think the answers to public opinion of mages and mages' opinion of other mages would fit in this thread still.
     
  14. DylanRS

    DylanRS Apprentice

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    A really big hammer might suck all the suspense out of nail-related issues, but if you spill paint on the floor you're SOL.

    Are mages of this caliber a dime a dozen, or are they relatively scarce? Can they teleport, or are they isolated from distant peers? What kinds of magics might they specialize in that would make the story boring by trivializing all conflict?

    Even without considering these things, I'm of the opinion that any level of power can have a compelling context that it doesn't trivialize. In the Eragon series you have mages who expend no effort in killing huge swaths of enemy soldiers - despite the fact that in order to cast a spell you use an equal amount of energy to doing it without magic. How? They tell a blood vessel in your brain to get snipped. This shifts the dilemma for wizards a bit. A huge part of their responsibility includes curbing the influence of enemy wizards. They're assigned battalions that they have to protect, and it's a stressful job on both sides to have to be focused all the time on preventing a hundred people all around you from dropping dead where they stand. That's compelling to me. That series is actually bad, apparently. Not interested in rereading it. But the magic system is good, in my opinion.
     
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2018
  15. ScaryMJDiamcreep

    ScaryMJDiamcreep Lore Master

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    The only characters I've got down at the moment that might be able to trivialise combat through OP magic are the ones that are apostles for the god of death, the god of space, and the god of time, and even then, the level of magic they'd need to expend to decimate an army of 100 soldiers would be immense. Even if they get the magic they are granted by their deity to the no-cost state, it would still have the effect of trying to beat the world record for a marathon on their body, so they'd have to be really prepared in order to decimate that army and not be left completely vunerable for any survivors to come and pick them off.

    A mage who has achieved the no-cost state for their magic is not too rare, but not too common either. There's probably about 1 mage a year achieving the no-cost state, sometimes there might be more, and getting training by a mage who has achieved it speeds up the process, but achieving that state is sort of like a road of personal achievment, so mages who get help from those who have already achieved it are considered barely better than mages who practice forbidden magics, as are the mages who decide to provide the help. They wouldn't be arrested/killed on sight except by people who are crazy about justice, but it's like how someone with a low credit score would get denied loans and might not even be allowed to buy cars.

    As for teleportation, that is a type of magic, so there would be mages who are able to teleport to the other side of the earth as if it's nothing, and there are mages who can only teleport something up to the weight of a small dog and only distances of a couple of meters.
     
  16. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

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    >only teleport something up to the weight of a small dog and only distances of a couple of meters.

    For example, teleport all the money from inside the safe to outside the safe. Very handy, that!
     
  17. ScaryMJDiamcreep

    ScaryMJDiamcreep Lore Master

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    I feel like that even a true master of teleportation magic wouldn't be able to teleport things they can't see.
     
  18. psychotick

    psychotick Dark Lord

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    Hi,

    Or just teleport someone's head a few metres - damned useful little weapon that (But it was used in Powers).

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  19. ScaryMJDiamcreep

    ScaryMJDiamcreep Lore Master

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    I feel like you'd have to be able to move the thing from the position it's in manually if you want to be able to teleport it using the universal teleportation spell. And I think any true master of teleportation magic would probably be loathe to the idea of using it to decapitate someone.
     
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