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The raw basics of magic.

(After a lot of thought on magic, I've finally come up with a concept I'm more or less happy with. Thought I'd share and get some constructive criticism. There might be little inconsistencies in the text. I wrote it off the top of my head when the muse suddenly struck.)

In Ferranaia, there is no magic to be found in the physical realm. No one is born with innate magical talents and not even a thousand years of study or practice could shape a mind into magical conduit. The ethereal realm is the source of all magic but it is separated from the physical realm by a barrier referred to as the veil.

The ethereal realm is a mirror image of our world. It’s the world-as-should-be. Objects in the physical realm are representations of their physical counterpart. Unlike their physical counterparts, these objects are perfect. They capture the essence of what it means to be that specific object.

The ethereal realm is not just populated by perfect objects, it’s also the home of higher beings — colloquially known as demons. These beings are the perfect rendition of humans. They are every bit as diverse as the humankind but they are all perfect in one aspect or another. At first, there were only a select few of these beings — as there were only a select amount of human traits. First there was conscience, then there was strength and intelligence. But demons are not only representations of perfect virtues — some excel at what humans would consider vices. There are demons of greed or cruelty just as there are those who represent beauty or kindness.

A demon’s strength is determined by many factors. Usually, the older generations are stronger than the newer ones. However demons can grow in strength as they accomplish their goals — thus becoming more perfect. A demon of wrath that can kill other demons will grow stronger . A demon of gluttony will grow stronger when he devours souls.

Over time, these first demons started to procreate — in their own way. Countless new generations of demons have come into existence and now their power and perfection varies. There are many kinds of demons now and not one of them is entirely similar to another. New variations have led to some interesting demons. A demon of vengeance was created out of the union of a demon of greed and one of wrath. Those rare scholars who study the origins of demons are called (ethereal) genealogists. They are referred to as demonologists by the common people.

To use magic, a person must strike a bargain with a demon. To do so, he has to be able to communicate with the demon. He can do so by summoning the demon temporarily or permanently (by providing a host). Demons usually ask a price for their favor. Usually, their price is something that will give them an advantage in their own realm. In return, they’ll grant powers, bless or curse. Some demons ask regular tribute for their powers while others ask only a single thing in return for a lifetime of power.

There are also limitations to magic. For a demon to manifest his powers in the physical realm, his presence is needed. For this, the demon could give the mage a scroll, possess the mage partially or agree to possess another person and obey the mage for a set amount of time. Some demons give powers that do not require this. The gift of clairvoyance can be given through dreams. Once struck, a bargain cannot be altered — except with the consent of both parties. As demons are usually infinitely older and more experienced than humans, they often manage to get more than they give.

Demons can be summoned by humans to the human world. They will not be able to stay for long without a proper host. When summoned without a host, only the most powerful can do more than see and talk. To summon a demon, a true name is needed. These names are very hard to find (the easiest way to do so, but also the most dangerous way is to visit the ethereal realm). Scholars who research the true names of demons are called (ethereal) onomatologists. They too are often referred to as demonologists by laymen.

It is also possible to breach the veil and enter the ethereal realm. There are several ways to do so — you could let a demon summon you (something that requires consent. The rule is demons in the ethereal realm cannot breach the veil without a human’s consent — and even then he is severely limited). Research has shown that on certain days, the veil between both worlds is less thick and humans can enter the realm through the use of a hallucinogenic substance. Demons, however, still cannot pierce the veil on those nights — contrary to popular folklore.
Hello Abbas,

This looks pretty cool to me. I'm better at picking out what I do and don't like about magical systems once the story has started, but I think you've got an interesting foundation here. Very curious to see where it leads.


Queen of Titania
Thank you, Ireth =)

This thread has been moved from the Showcase to the World Building forum, because it describes the design of a Magic system in detail. The Showcase, in the other hand, is for sharing parts of your stories and getting some feedback.

You have quite an interesting Magic system, Abbas. We need more Demons in Fantasy literature...


Good morning Abbas-Al-Morim,

I like the concept. It reminds me of other story deals with 'demons', Faustian pact springs to mind.

The idea of the demon requiring a 'gift' to advantage them in the ethereal realm is great, for example the mentioned demon of gluttony could require the human's soul in return for his 'favours'. If this demon wanted to get really powerful, they might try to get a cult worshiping him, all giving their souls.

Could this be an interesting start to a story/sub plot about demon power struggles?

All in all, an very interesting concept with lots of potential. I think it will go far :).



Very interesting and a fine place for all sort of little plot points to stem from!
The idea of your ethereal realm reminds me of the Twilight from The Night Watch Trilogy by Antoni Lukyenenko (plus the fourth book The Last Watch, which for some reason was separate from the first three (not sure if I spelt his name right, though)). It includes some very interesting ideas that might be useful to you. Especially since the Twilight is divided into seven "levels" and as the main character manages to go deeper, some very intriguing things happen.
Also something that came to mind was Dragon Age. I found their demon system to be arguably the best I'd seen/read. Perhaps it could be another source of inspirational ideas?
Regardless, it's a neat idea and I'm sure you'll have great fun with it!
these objects are perfect. They capture the essence of what it means to be that specific object.

Have you heard of Plato's Theory of Forms. Basically, a chair is called a chair because on the degree to which it resembles the "idea" of a chair. The word "ideal" is said to come from this. (according to Wikipedia)

Consider calling the Demons something more specific to the setting. Ideals, Virtues, Perfects, would convey the idea of the thing, and tie into the setting you have created. Demon is a generic word and could be anything. You could still use it as a derogatory way to refer to them, but also have another name for them.
Thank you for all the ideas and praise!

I did draw some inspiration from Dragon Age (hence "the veil") but I don't want my demons to be monstrous creations. They are more reflections on the nature of humankind. A hyperbolic image of our shortcomings and our abilities.

And yes, Snowpoint, I actually used Plato's theory as the main inspiration for the ethereal realm. I had philosophy last semester and I adored Plato (because he was the only one that was easy and got me a 15 on my exam). And I thought his two-world theory was ideal for a little fantasy twist. I like the idea of calling demons something less demonic (for instance, I referred to them as "higher beings"). The common folk would of course just call them demons. But perhaps the more scholarly inclined would have their own name for them. Virtues doesn't quite strike me as right since their are also demons with "perfect vices". Ideals or Perfects though do have a ring to it.

One of my main characters would be an apprentice mage and I think this kind of magic (which is more unique I think than the standard mana-system) would be the ideal backdrop for a good storyline. Imagine an apprentice who's about to strike a deal with a demon. How much can go wrong at once?


Yeah, I was going to say it reminded me of Dragon's Age as well. Not so much the vice demons but the virtue ones. It just made me think of Justice from Awakening (creepy dude that he is).

I'm curious what kinds of powers they give. I know you mentioned clairvoyance, but is there more traditional things like fireballs or healing? And are their power, even if there are no fireballs or whatever, linked to a specific demon? For example, only a demon of compassion could provide healing, something like that?
Yeah, I was going to say it reminded me of Dragon's Age as well. Not so much the vice demons but the virtue ones. It just made me think of Justice from Awakening (creepy dude that he is).

I'm curious what kinds of powers they give. I know you mentioned clairvoyance, but is there more traditional things like fireballs or healing? And are their power, even if there are no fireballs or whatever, linked to a specific demon? For example, only a demon of compassion could provide healing, something like that?

I was going to link the powers to their traits. Because that's where the magic ultimately comes from - they are so perfect in this or that way that they can manifest powers we consider magical related to that.

Since it's rather hard for demons to use direct magic in the physical realm, there wouldn't be fireballs or healing (or maybe there would be, but using scrolls and long incantations). I was going to make most magical talents more subtle. There will also be curses or blessings (e.g. I barter my soul if you make the person this hair belongs to ill) and the like.

I haven't really considered it a lot though.
What does "perfect" mean in this story? Does it mean that they are free of flaws, or that they have mastered their specific trait?

Did you already state this and I didn't see it somehow? Is it obvious? I apologize if my thinking isn't the clearest at the moment; please just point me to what I missed.
It means they are perfect (free of flaws) in their particular area. For instance, a demon of vengeance is the perfect embodiment of vengeance. They are not perfect as a whole though. A demon of vengeance for instance, could be a very poor negotiator or despite his cunning nature, lack in intelligence. The perfection needs to be taken with a grain of salt as well. As I said, demons can grow in power. So in potential they are the perfect embodiment, in reality they are close to perfection. The strive for that ultimate perfection (that perfection on another level, where they are so perfect in that one area they also become perfect in almost anything else) is what drives them to strike bargains with humans.
Hm. I like that concept (use?) of perfection. I don't often discuss what perfection is or means. I'll keep this topic in mind.

I am quite captivated by your ideas. I hope I can read your story someday.
Thank you for taking an interest!

I'll be writing for the Sanderson classes so hopefully I'll have a good story to tell by the end of September! If you'd like to find out more about my world and characters, you can always keep an eye out for other threads of mine. Right now I have an interview with one of my characters set up. You're more than welcome to check it out here.


I recently saw the movie 'Tales of the Earthsea' where knowing somebody true name grants you something in return. Out of curiosity, could it be that you got your inspiration from there?

I didn't get my inspiration from that movie, haven't seen it yet. It's a common enough trope though. In the Heritage series of Christopher Paolini, you can get absolute power over a person if you know his true name. I also encountered something similar in Neverwinter Nights 2, where you can banish a devil by using his real name (so it stems from DnD as well).
Name power is one of the basic rules of a lot of primitive magic. Earthsea (especially the original books, which have a lot more fans than the movie) is just the best-known recent system to borrow it.


Myth Weaver
The OP's system is very similiar to how the ancients viewed magic (Middle East, Rome, South Asia). Most wizards were obsessed with obtaining the 'true name' of a given spirit, demon, or demigod. The belief was that knowing the true name of such an entity would grant the wizard power over it, and the wizard could command said entity to work magic on his behalf. This attitude is all through the bible (First thing Moses asked when the bush burst into flame was the name of the spirit, and the NT letters are filled with 'spirit' references). The ancients also acknowledged potential dire consequences if the wizard lost control of said demon or spirit. This too turns up in the bible a few times.

Other types of magic were deemed possible in the ancient systems, but compared to knowing the name of a demon/spirit, they were seen as downright pathetic, about one cut above fraud.

In the Roman area...

Goetics - frauds or a notch above frauds. Magic considered feeble and unreliabe, sometimes seen as being under the control of a malevolent spirit.

Witches and 'philosophers' - The former were considered to have deals with spirits, mostly of a lesser sort, while the 'philosophers' encompassed a ...range... of approaches, generally quasi scientific. 'Magic through superior understanding', though thats not really accurate.

Magi and Sages - Initially, the Magi came from mesopotamia, a almost inbred cult of politically powerful magicians. Their power came from dark spirits and dark rituals. Sages were the more positive sort, often coming from a greek or judaic tradition. They were automatically assumed to have spirits to do their bidding. Examples here include some of the jewish rabbi's, Appolonius of Tyana, and even Jesus (from the pagan perspective).

Also worth noting these classifications were highly subjective: One mans 'sage' or 'divine man' was often another mans 'goetic' or 'fraud'.
The main difference with my system is that the name doesn't give you power over the demon. It can only be used to summon the creature. Controlling the demon isn't possible and to get magical powers, one must strike a deal (a two-way deal). This is a fundamental difference.

But I was inspired by ancient theories (Plato's philosophical theory for instance) and the idea of "true names".