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Trouble 'Squishy Wizard' System


I'm currently working on a new project with a new magic system. While thinking about competitive balance, I struck upon the idea while playing Dungeon Crawl. I need a little input on how this sound.

Basically, I asked myself a question: why is mage-type classes so squishy? I came up with this answer: the more physically fit a person is, the lower his magic capacity (not accounting personal variation). Working to enforce a sort of 'competitive balance', I also ruled that casting spell cause a certain strain on the body so strong constitution is not only required but also vital to ensure the survival of a spellcaster.

People will always try to circumvent the law of nature, so I could imagine them casting in group to share the mana load and strain. Then what about the loners? These people create machine that do the spell casting for them powered by a sort of magic fuel cell. Basically, they shift the burden to the machine doing the casting. If they want to cast stronger spell, they simply have to reinforce the machine and hook up more fuel cell.

Thank you in advance


Myth Weaver
I always thought the answer to that question was "the more time you devote to magic, the less time you have left to devote to physical fitness." The reverse is also likely true.


I always thought the answer to that question was "the more time you devote to magic, the less time you have left to devote to physical fitness." The reverse is also likely true.

Well, I want magic to be something you work for. Being a traditional mage mean a strict lifestyle in addition to the study. Being a machine-dependent means you spent a lot of money on fuel/parts/mechanic (if you can't work machine yourself) etc.

I'm also thinking about adding a third type in there: one that infuse mana directly into their body muscles, bones, and organs to enhance their physical prowess greatly if temporarily. Still thinking about the necessary drawbacks, entry-level requirements, and mechanic.

Philip Overby

Article Team
I had a magic system once that was developed with the magic-user's organs. They had Heart Magic, Kidney Magic, etc. The way people nullified magic is by jerking out the wizard's organs. Or stabbing them, whatever. It was pretty grisly, but I guess that's what I was going for. :)

These sound pretty good to me. I like the idea of magic being dependent on how good a "rig" you have. Meaning the more fuel components, the more "horsepower" you have or whatever. Sounds like a cool concept. I've always been intrigued by magic that isn't learned, but more like infused or bought. Kind of like in Final Fantasy VI with the Magi-tek armor, it combined elements of technology with the ability to harness magic.


This all sounds good except for
the more physically fit a person is, the lower his magic capacity
Why? Is there something actually stopping a physically fit person from also having a high magic capacity? Ireth's comment works well for this, I think. It's something to think about - if you want it so you can have either good fitness or magic, you should think of why.
One variation I've seen on this was a D&D variant that said magic permanently drained your health. The best mages were the ones who'd been healthiest when their training began (character roll-up) and so had more to sacrifice with every year of learning to channel the power.

--And you thought your all-nighters were rough.


Fiery Keeper of the Hat
My understanding is that it's usually because the spellcasting just wears you out. You're calling on some of your own energy to fuel your spells, so your muscles don't have the strength left to be physically fit.

In real life, there's a lot of people who are both physically fit and pretty intelligent. They aren't at odds. Improving yourself doesn't take that much time.


Article Team
Basically, I asked myself a question: why is mage-type classes so squishy? I came up with this answer: the more physically fit a person is, the lower his magic capacity (not accounting personal variation). Working to enforce a sort of 'competitive balance', I also ruled that casting spell cause a certain strain on the body so strong constitution is not only required but also vital to ensure the survival of a spellcaster.

I believe this is mainly an issue in games and not so much in stories.
In games you'll want the player's characters to be roughly equally powerful so that one doesn't feel weaker than the other. That's why magicians are usually physically weaker than fighters.

In a story you don't need to do this - unless you want to. You can still balance the power level of your characters if you want, but it's not necessary to make a good story. You'll probably still want to add some weaknesses to your characters but in a story you have a lot more options for weaknesses than in a game.
You could have a powerful magician that's also physically strong and skilled with the sword. He may be really ugly though and he could have confidence issues because of it - maybe he's compensating for that through being awesome at everything else.


Many 'magic systems' have a balancing factor, limiting factor, or cost. Very few things of value are 'something for nothing' and I think most readers sort of have this expectation, based on their real life experience. Even if it's only years of study and dedication to learn the 'craft of spellcasting' or whatever you'd call it.

Grouping or channeling magical energy, there's nothing wrong with that either. If it fits into your world and the way your magic works. And there's nothing that says those that cast spells can't be the most powerful people in the land, even if it's just genetically or hereditary in nature.

In my fantasy series, different types of magics have physical consequences. Seers, the more powerful they become, they begin to lose their physical sight. Enchanters are susceptible to magics cast by others upon them, so they often disguise themselves, or at least cover their faces when they perform spells in public. Healers become unable to physically harm other people. Necromancers, well, it ain't pretty. With the wizards, whose spells are elemental based, they're not 'limited' in some ways, but they begin to take on aspects of their area of expertise: air wizards, their skin pales, their hair becomes white and then translucent, etc. And they're not very powerful when, say at the bottom of a well or in a cave.

That's what worked for me. The range of what works in a world is wide open, as long as it seems 'logical' to the reader, even if you don't spell out every detail within the novel. Having it logical and all figured out ahead of time, and using that information when magic happens in the novel is, of course, pretty handy in keeping things consistent for the reader.
In my Wip, mages a lot of mages aren't squishy. They nearly all wear armour, and some, called Clerics (basically the enforcers for the nasty religion. These dudes go about in full plate, have longswords that they can use well, and they have hell fire. admittedly this is the most rigid of all the systems; summon fire, throw it at people.

My main character is also a mage, or Willer, as they're called, they can use their will to manipulate stuff. But he is also an archer, and a half way decent swords man. Aka, a badass. And he is extremely unsquishable. (ok, he is a bit squishy, but he wouldn't admit that :)

Though in games and stuff, you do need a sort of balance


I always thought the answer to that question was "the more time you devote to magic, the less time you have left to devote to physical fitness." The reverse is also likely true.

Yeah I have to agree with this one; I always assumed this as a rule of thumb - to a degree.


Thanks for the input everyone, it really make me think about the base idea and the in-universe explanation about it. I especially like TWErvin2 suggestion of putting in some sort of hereditary advantages (thinking about some sort of bloodlines that made people more predisposed to spell-casting e.g.: extremely high mana capacity, talent toward certain school of magic, etc). Really fit with what I plan for the world where genetic-engineering school of magic exists.

Time to get to work, I guess, and Thank you again.
In my WIP learning magic is akin to learning a martial art w/advanced mathematics and chemistry simultaneously. In order to have the stamina to cast magic, dance rituals, brew potions, etc... you need to stay in good physical shape. All the knowledge in the world doesn't help if you can only cast one fireball before having a tea and a nice lie down to recover.
I like the ruff and tumble wizards in Dresden Files. You gotta be strong body and strong mind. Because, sometimes a fist is better than a fireball, you gotta be wise enough to know when the mundane way is just better.

Magi, the Magical Labyrinth - the new recruits have to build up muscle and stamina to be better at magic.


Myth Weaver
I have one mage character who trained in martial arts (jeet kune do specifically) for about sixteen years before coming into his magic (that happened when he was about forty). The man's actual profession is a music teacher, and his magic ties in deeply to music, specifically song. He still does the martial arts along with learning more about what his magic does, and he also enjoys acting (which also kinda ties into his job -- he's a musical theater freak. :D).
I have always viewed magic in a specific way. This is to say, those who use magic (at least in worlds I envision) feed off magic as the stuff that keeps them alive (don't run away just yet, I shall explain!) and magic feeds off them. Why do we always seem to see mages as slender men/women lacking in more definite muscle tone. The reason, magic is of the soul, it flows from within to the outside. Muscle definition doesn't provide any natural resistance to the draining effects of magic. The other being, magic is usually NEVER easy to learn, and becomes a lifelong dedicated task to learn how to spin a beautiful spell. Because of this, as said by Ireth, working out, let alone taking care of yourself in the sense of health goes by the wayside, as magic becomes more and more irresistible.
Example: In my world I explained magic as being akin to an addiction. The rush, the exhilaration of using magic was in effect the same as a shot of adrenaline but a wee bit stronger. At the same time what happens when you finally come off the adrenaline high? You become tired, exhausted through and through. Magic in my world works the same way. In fact if used in my world without regards to the cost, it can drain you dry and effectively kill you.

Now mind you, there are many instances in fantasy that I have come across where the mage is a more martial oriented being that suffuses their martial ability with tidbits of magic. These hybrids... if you want to call them such... try to use the best of both worlds. However, they rarely if ever become as strong as a full fledged mage/wizard that has devoted all their time and energy to learning the Art. (I mean this as, they rarely become as strong in the field of magic.) Though though probably put a lot of stomp down on regular warriors.
The only true spellcasters that I have seen that break tradition of being locked in a library for years are warmages, who pursue both branches. Mind you they may not have awesome martial training but they also can in a fight sense match and beat some very powerful mages. They have greater stamina, greater active resistance to the debilitating effects of magic, and if pressed can defend themselves with sword or spear.

Most importantly, no mage has to be squishy. Depending on the world and the magic system a mage can be whatever, decked out in full plate and be able to call down lightning and fire like a vengeful god if the world works that way. I find that if mages are not set with limits, natural flaws then they become godlike unbeatable figures and few stories go a long way when magic is this way. I encourage flaws, draw backs to using magic. Yet also, I think magic is the shield and armor for those who lack powerful bodies, perhaps they are weak and frail and prone to sickness. Raistlin Majere of Dragonlance is the iconic mage who uses magic to keep up with his more powerful and healthy twin brother, Caramon. One was born with the mind... the other was born with the body.


Mage classes are always squishy and weak....at first. No amtter what game you play (Skyrim, D&D, etc....) magic grows almost exponentially with it's power. Then at higher levels they do more damage than all the melee fighters in their parties combined.
Mages are usually "exponential" in power growth, true-- it's a game tradition, and it allows for how the best wizards can do the most impressive feats that we think of as "magic." But not always.

Another part of this is that wizard "squishiness" isn't just about general fitness, it's more reflexes in combat. Running a marathon's general fitness can help you recover from wounds, or withstand the strain of working magic, but what really keeps you alive is being that quarter-second faster to turn around when the bandit tries to knife you or the giant's club comes down. If a mage isn't putting in the time the warriors do to keep reacting better, he's still just a big target under all the wards he's put up.


Is it possible that, outside of fairness in games, this generalization exists because of another one? If one automatically assumes that magic is mental or spiritual one might identify magic users with the skinny nerd who can't throw a ball to save his life but can write code so fast he'd make your head spin. This leads to thinking of those with physical prowess as somehow lacking in mental skill, hence the dumb jock stereotype. But, how is throwing a ball 75 yards while running diagonally through a press of bodies and estimating the amount of lead required to get the ball to the receiver at the exact moment and location necessary not just as 'magical' as writing a program that allows me to simulate that same experience at home? The average person can't do either of those things.

Obviously, you can design magic systems however you like and I don't think this is a bad idea per se. I just wonder why the stereotype exists in the first place.

(On a personal note, I hate sports and refuse to even watch most professional games but I must admit that I cannot do what the athletes do. It is magical to me because I cannot do it.)