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Talk about the framework of your magic system

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Steerpike, Aug 3, 2012.

  1. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    There have been a few magic threads going around, and it has made me curious about a couple of things:

    1) How many of you try to put in place some kind of pseudo-scientific explanation for magic in your world; and

    2) In terms of rules governing magic, is it rules-heavy or rules-light.

    With respect to #2, I think it is important that there be consistency in the magic in a fantasy world, so that the reader gets the sense that there is some logic governing it all even if she never finds out exactly what the logic is. Within that general guidelines, however, there is a lot of room for minimalist rules systems and very detailed ones.

    I'll go first.

    1. In my work-in-progress, the idea is that "magic" is an artifact of the natural world, not the supernatural one. I do a small amount in terms of providing a 'scientific' framework, but I don't get into great detail in the story. The fact that it is a natural, scientific phenomenon does influence how I approach writing it, though; and

    2. The rules are pretty light. I try to be consistent in what energy is available for magic, how it is drawn upon, and the consequences of using it. Apart from that I don't get into it too deeply.
    Lorna likes this.
  2. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

    This is a very interesting thread, Steerpike!! Here you have my answers:

    1- My Magic is the exact opposite to Science, Nature and Technology. It has no relation at all with natural powers, because it's a truly supernatural power that works by shattering and destroying Reality itself.

    2- My Magic has very few rules and limitations, close to having none at all... Magic creates its own limits, and it's very easy to understand =)
  3. Amanita

    Amanita Maester

    My post probably isn’t really what you’re looking for because I’m not really certain about either.

    In my world, magic is an additional elemental property. There’s no further explanation however and I wouldn’t call it scientific even though it’s based on the actual chemical elements.
    The nature of an element’s magic is connected to its actual chemical properties but this is never spelt out and probably won’t really be obvious in many cases.

    There are some rules and other things that change depending on personality, psychological things and the like. There are a few quite strict rules that someone can only manipulate his or her own element though. Many things magic often does simply aren’t possible for them or only for a few of them. No one can teleport or raise undead armies for example for example so there definitely are limits.
    The different kinds of elemental magic have some things in common and differ in others but I didn’t really manage strict rules so far because there are too many elements and I keep learning new stuff about them as well. Some of it actually changes rules I’ve already made…
    All of this isn’t really helpful for writing a good story I have to admit.
  4. Thaumicist

    Thaumicist Dreamer

    1) Always, as a sort of point of principle. I stay away from fiddling with the actual laws of physics (no quantum stuff or spacetime bending), but I try to tie in the stuff I add. I also like to present 'real' science, however inaccurate, going on alongside it. On the rare occasion I don't write scientific magic I make sure there's a contingent in the world trying to explain the magic in some way, be that scientific or religious. After all, if magic was a part of this world and we'd all grown up with it, we wouldn't see it as sparkly and special; we'd consider it (relatively) normal and it would probably become a subject of enquiry whether there was an answer to it or not, if only for the sake of building better weapons.

    2) Rules-heavy in that (in my opinion) it's seriously limited in what it does. Rules-light in that the limitations all come from the one or two pseudoscientific ideas at the start. Or nearly all, anyway. I don't like imposing arbitrary rules, because when I read about systems with arbitrary rules, I always end up shouting at the book "But WHY does iron do this thing and steel that? Steel is an alloy of iron and CARBON! Carbon is NOT A METAL! It should have no effect! What if you swallowed a mixture of iron filings and charcoal?" etc. and then wind up grumbling about types of interatomic bonds all evening.

    And that didn't turn into a rant.

    Meanwhile, I live in fear that I will mistake my writing notes for my chemistry homework.
  5. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    1) My magic is based on using energy to create a specific effect. So in that respect, it is somewhat grounded in science. While some things, like, creating a non-burning fireball (basically light) is easy, something like weather control is virtually unachievable.

    2) So I use spheres to separate my types of magic. Life (encompassing both healing and resurrections, and harming with disease or corruption and necromancy), Enchanting (imbuing an item with your own energy through use of symbols or elaborate rituals), Element (using the things and forces of the natural world to either manipulate your surroundings or "create"fireballs, lightning, force waves, etc.). I also have sub categories which are rare, but exist, and a sort of folk magic, herbalism, curses, etc. and telepathy, premonitions, and domination of animals. I also use a form of blood magic in one book.

    As far as my rules, I'm pretty flexible, but then in my world, magic is pretty low on the scale of power I've read about in other novels. While it exists, most of the powerful people are employed in the education of others, not taking over the world.

    As far as my people's rules, they are very strict. Magic draws on your personal stamina, so as you become more accomplished, you get less side effects from casting spells, but the bigger the spell, the more draining it is. So people can slip into a coma, die, or simply be tired for a couple days after they exceed their limits.

    Cleric magic comes from the spirit plane, so my clerics act as conduits when they perform healing. In the same regard, some can call on their god to help with setting a bone or healing a cut, but only the rarest cleric would have the clout to ask for a resurrection, even in a temple where the gods are most powerful.
  6. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    1) There's definitely some sort of pseudo scientific explanation for magic in my world.

    Here's a short summary.
    The resource used to wield magic is the aether, it's available everywhere. Before the aether can be used (woven) into magic it needs to be channelled into a weaveable stream. Relatively few people are able to channel or weave the aether and even fewer are able to do both.
    Weaving the aether includes splitting it into streams that are wovern together, the more streams the weaver are able to keep track of the more complex effects they are able to achieve. Similarly, channellers are also limited in that there's only so much aether they're able to channel and that varies from person to person.

    2) There's a couple of practical limitations to use of magic.
    - The weaver needs to be able to see or be very familiar with the target of their magic (where applicable)
    - Magic expires. An enchanted sword won't stay enchanted forever.
    - Raw magical energy cannot be stored.
    - It's not possible to wield (controlled) magic through mechanical means.
    - Opening portals between different locations is theoretically possible, but actively discouraged (on pain of death). This is a "political" limitation and doesn't have anything to do with the rules governing the usage of magic.

    Also, on top of the aether based magic there's a few other types of magic that work outside the system.
    - Shamanism (magic by spiritual proxy)
    - Divine magic (magic done by invoking the power of the gods)
    - Divination (not really magic at all, but a way of drawing conclusions from observing the world)

    The more detailed description is available here: Magic - Odd Lands Wiki
    When looking through the pages I noticed that there's a few bits missing, especially with regards to weaving. It's on the list of things to do though.
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2012

    LOCOFOOL Minstrel

    1) Magic in my world requires mental and physical discipline to use. It also takes and understanding of how magic surrounds the world. At the time in the world the 99% have no idea how this works. This causes question as to whether or not magic exists or if it was just a myth.

    2) Not anyone can use magic in my world and even when you do learn you still need the physical and mental stamina to pull it off.

    Hope that sums it up, everyone has such amazing ideas!
  8. Lorna

    Lorna Inkling

    1) I'd describe my system of magic as metaphysical as opposed to scientific.
    The Source = The World Soul.
    The World Soul has 4 elemental hearts (Air, Fire, Water, Earth).
    The hearts flow out in veins and return by a double beat. Along the veins are 'sources' guarded by elementals who teach their 'arts' to humans. eg. The Fire Heart (dragons) Volcanoes (fire giants and volc) Lava pools (imps) Fire clouds (sylphs)

    2) There's only two limits on magic
    - The strength of the source, whether it's been drained by magic users or fed with the remains of enemies
    - The capacities of the magician

    I wonder if you could explain this. When I think of artefacts I think of objects. Are you saying magic's an objective being? I can understand magic being a part of nature or nature as magical (ie. animism) or magic residing in objects but I can't comprehend the idea of magic itself as an artefact.
    Is energy a part of the natural world too?

    That's pretty awesome. When you come to consider what magic is, apart from the nature / the elements you come to the conclusion that, well, IT'S MAGIC- defying all rules, shattering our conceptions of the world and reality. The closest definition I can tie to it is 'the power of transformation.'
    Sheilawisz likes this.
  9. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    1- Magic is rare so its not well understood to begin with. Some characters aren't even aware that they're performing magic innately because it is so quick & seems ordinary to them. The true magic is discovered along with the POV characters. It has always existed but is vastly misunderstood (mainly because it's true power was lost over the centuries). It is psychically based with little attempt to explain with pseudo-science. I do dabble slightly with harnessing the subconscious parts of the mind to work a magical effect but since the characters have no real scientific knowledge on brain structure, I don't explain with any type of pseudo-science.

    2- Since the understanding of magic grows from the story's progression, I would say it starts out feeling mystical with a steady move towards a more firm understanding. Overall though it is rules light. There are no fireballs or lightning attacks. Magical effects can be very subtle (but useful) or controlling but it's power lies in the mind & the focus of will. The mind is limitless in a users application of their own force of will (there are some limits on the mind's potential) but the ability to utilize magic at this level is exceedingly rare. Those to do reach this level of magical power pay a heavy, heavy price.

    Edit: I'd also mention that it takes s lot of ritual, focus, and experience to work magic to a desired effect which limits its application and therefore it's power.
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2012
  10. JCFarnham

    JCFarnham Auror

    In Faebound, magic is I suppose a natural property, being that if you're a magical being it comes naturally to you. On the other hand it could be Supernatural, because it's either magical effects from the other plane of existance the "Otherside" (basically, the world of spirits, demons and plenty of unknowable horrors) or from being Fae.

    Definitely rules-light. Despite this fairly wishy washy, vague/"mysterious" magic in which you can do what ever the hell you like, this is after all an urban fantasy setting. It was imperative that the system be able to sit along side a human world that doesn't believe in magic and can't be trully magic.. (aka, our world). If you're human, you are NOT magical and CAN'T touch or work pure magic directly. You CAN if you're Fae or a spirit/demon/something.

    The twist is that a human could in fact become something you might call a "wizard". They contract helpful Fae to make them magical artefacts so as to abuse the loop hole in the One Law. Such people are "Faebound". They've exchanged something important in order to have a Fae personally help them/make them the artefacts they want. In most cases this means becoming subserviant to the Fae. The Fae tells you what to do, you do it, or face their wrath.

    There is one other psuedo-rule mind you. Magic works via belief. It is still real, can still hurt regardless, but Fae find it physically hard to exist in areas of disbelief and non-believers tend to be oblivious in most situations. In-Universe the rule is "Ever felt creeped out? well that was probably magic".

    The single loop hole here appears to be taking possession of a willing subject... IF the Fae has that kind of ability. The main Fae in the books is called Monty, and for all intents and purposes is a white cockatoo. It limits his powers quite a bit, but ... swings and roundabouts.

    So there you have it :D
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2012
  11. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

    @Lorna: Thank you, I am happy to see that you like my style of Magic... Yes, that's my point of view: Magic is a supernatural force, something beyond the reach and power of all natural laws and reality itself- That's because it's Magic!!
  12. Ankari

    Ankari Hero Breaker Moderator

    I have a large number of magical systems in place, some known some unknown. I'll talk about the systems in place known to the POV characters at the time the novel takes place. My magical system has a good dose of scientific reasoning. I use science only has the foundation when creating a new magic system. After I build it up a little, it steps away into the realm of fantasy.

    It is rule heavy. I don't want magic users to be demigods. I want a universe where a warrior who has mastered various weapons can pose a threat to a magician who can telekinetically control 6 swords or an elf (yeah, I got them) you can speak and control animals.

    Also, magic isn't limited to bloodline, it is accessible to anyone. The limitations in place are manufactured or are a result of social-economical barriers. For instance, only the elfen (plural for elves) in my universe know how to open "gates" into other realms. The races from the Realm of Light know how to manipulate the energy from the sun. The omlaka, the giants from the Realm of Night, will teach anyone who wishes to learn Voidcalling as long as they swear their lives to the nation of Phrojin (controlled by the omlaka).

    So, limitations are in place. I see magic as a skill like any other. Yes, these skills are a little more dangerous. However, in most cases, you have to sacrifice a lot to gain the skill (years of learning the mental discipline to grasp these energies or manipulate the elements around you).
  13. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

    1. My magic system is rooted in my world's metaphysics and the supernatural rather than any kind of science. Sort of. You might say that magic is both a natural force and a divine gift in the same way you could say that light is both a wave and a particle. There's a pervading essence or fabric woven into the world that makes magic work and is overseen by angelic beings. On top of that, the use of magic has one of two sources: the Worldmaker on one side and the Grey Lords on the other. Good and evil respectively. There's technically a sort of magic that's "neutral", but it's not "true" magic, it just has the appearance of magic.

    Of course it should be noted that in my world, the laws of nature as we know them may not necessarily apply at all. For example, the world is flat, plate tectonics is non-existent, geography doesn't necessarily follow Earth rules, there's a realm called Valengard that simultaneously exists across the sea and under it, etc.

    2. The rules are quite light. I have a set of guidelines that the different magic types operate by, just to help me keep it all straight, but those guidelines are never actually spelled out for the reader unless it is necessary to the story to do so.
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2012
  14. 1) It's a semi-plausible physical phenomenon, but the civilization in the story is centuries away from having enough science to explain it.

    2) Rules-heavy. They experiment with it and figure out what they can do with it, and it's pretty strict (just as it would be with someone discovering any new physical phenomenon). But then, this is low fantasy; magic is a plot device, it's not the story. (The story is the mistakes the characters make.)

    In general, I consider it a given that there's always, at bottom, rules. We may not understand them or be able to explain why they exist or where they came from; but there's always rules. Magic either follows unthinking physical laws, or it is the result of the decisions/actions of sentient beings (perhaps spirits in another plane). But in the latter case, sentience can only function with a consistent substrate of physical laws. So either way, you end up with, at bottom, rules.

    Whether the rules actually are present or known by the characters in your story is an entirely orthogonal discussion to that.
  15. Chime85

    Chime85 Sage

    1) In my WIP it is very science heavy, its considered the forth science. The magic can only occour when the forces and energy around it is there. Example; (I know this is cliche, but it's a firm demonstration) Fire magic cannot occour without light, heat and fuel. That goes with water, it cannot occour without hydrogen and oxigen present.

    2) In my writing, I try to be concise. I have a system of rules set up for my magic; breaking these rules (as a forth science) would damage much of my story. Magic users in my WIP are closer to conduits than magicians. they can convert force, energy and chemicals with their powers' rather than plucking them from thin air.

    Last edited: Aug 3, 2012
  16. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    I've undergone a long transformation here from D&D style magic to something patterned fairly closely off the more objective studies of 'psychical phenomena' - ESP, levitation, telekinesis, pyrokinesis, ect. I finally went,

    'well, true or not, there are a lot of reports of people doing these specific things, therefor for story purposes they might as well be true'

    I did toss in a few oddball things from the magicians of antiquity, but these tend to differ pretty radically from most present day fantasy magic.

    Basically, 'magical energy' is present in everybody, but very few people have enough to actually be able to 'cast spells'.

    A comparision I use:

    Pick a thousand people totally at random. Now...of those thousand, how many are likely to have the makings of a pro athelete? Probably just a couple, if that. Same way with 'magic'.


    Old line D&D magic had plenty of rules, many of them arbitrary. What I'm mucking about with now has more flexibility in some respects (no need to rememorize a spell once cast), but does have other limitations.

    Having magical talent is one thing. Being able to use it requires training, learning how to focus, application of mental discipline. Would be wizards in my system typically spend as much as a couple years in a very dull environment, doing 'memory work' - focusing and meditating without external stimulus. The ones who master this become at least minor mages; the ones who don't at best retain a couple of oddball talents.

    There are quite a few untrained people with 'magical talent' running around; their abilities manifesting as unusually good luck, superb sense of direction, ability to predict the weather or tell where the fish are, stuff like that.

    That said, the vast majority of wizards in my system are wimps: more than a couple spells in a short while and they are dead on their feet.

    There are other entities with much greater power, usually from some other dimension. A big goal of some wizards in my system is to learn the 'true name' of these beings (as per ancient magic) which then grants the wizard a measure of control over said being. Problem is, many of these entities are straight out of Lovecraft, with nasty goals of their own, and over time the wizards outlook will align with that of his conjured 'servant'.
  17. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    1) There isn't any psuedo-science involved with my magical system.

    2) My system has loose rules: Basically the magic-user will pull the energy to them from everything around them and they are limited in their spells only by their own imagination and the availability of the correct type of energy.
  18. Addison

    Addison Auror

    In a few of my fantasy stories magic is more scientific than wonderous. It's rare and harvested in farms. Farms which are guarded night and day and the magic takes a great deal of strength of mind. But other times it's more wonderous. I listened to a lecture about magic systems a while ago. Brian Sanderson I believe. He said there's a scale for a magic system, Wonder and Fact (a.k.a Soft and Hard) The more your magic is explained and follows certain rules the Harder it is. If it's like the three good fairies of Sleeping Beauty then it's Soft. Harry Potter would be in the middle, leaning toward soft.
  19. vidcom

    vidcom Acolyte

    1) In Valanya, magic is obtained simply by consuming a certain metal, and this enhances you in a way that if I were to explain, it would ruin the book I'm writing with it in. It DOES have an easy explanation, and can be linked to science and where exactly it's origin is.
    2) Rules? I take the view that magic is simply an addition to the human body, so it can't really have rules, in the same way you can't make rules for breathing
  20. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    Having a background in biology and a fair understanding of human physiology, I can tell you there are any number of 'rules' for breathing, and violating one of them could prove quite fatal. I guess what I'm wondering is this: if magic is an extension of the human physiology, then shouldn't there necessarily be some rules around how it works, what can be accomplished, the toll on the body, and so on?

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