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Unique Magic System

Discussion in 'World Building' started by D. Gray Warrior, Apr 14, 2019.

  1. D. Gray Warrior

    D. Gray Warrior Troubadour

    Any tips for designing a unique magic system? I want something other than “mage uses mana to cast fireball,” since that seems to be the most common kind of magic in fantasy.

    I’m toying with wild magic, but having certain individuals having anti-magic.

    In one of the first fantasy worlds I had built, the magic system was loosely and subconsciously based on the Fire Emblem games. There was Dark magic, but those using it were not necessarily evil, but at risk of being corrupted or consumed by its power. The appearance of the mages also kinda resembled the mages from Fire Emblem.

    I do have an idea for a mage character that might require a more traditional magic system.

    Any thoughts on constructing an interesting magic system?
  2. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    I would strongly advice against using video games and RPGs in designing a magic system. It takes a lot of the wonder and mysticism out of magic in favor of a quantifiable and mechanical systems.
    I'm getting really tired of seeing "the character has a mana battery and to access 'higher level' spells, they must deplete more magic energy from their battery that is powered by the metaphysical fountainhead of all magic and also you're either born with magic or you're not".

    Also, keep the scope of magic limited - it shouldn't be able to do everything. The magic systems that I see that get the most praise (Mistborn, Avatar the Last Airbender, Full Metal Alchemist, etc.) have very focused magic systems which are ultimately only capable of a handful of unique "spells" but it stays interesting by finding different uses or even variations of those spells.
    How the characters use magic will always be more interesting than how the magic actually works.
  3. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I've developed a few magic systems for my settings that I'm really satisfied with in terms of their uniqueness. For me it's usually about having a good source for the magic, and a good theme for the magic. And then you just keep pushing the idea further and further, and still further, until it gives up all its secrets.

    What does wild magic mean? Do you mean nature magic or magic that's unpredictable? Both have been referred to as Wild. Let's go with the latter, for example, and speculate for a moment. Why would be unpredictable? Maybe it's like a normal magic system.... but it's broken. Years ago the dark lord whoever tapped into the world wide aether, and although failing at the big evil plan, still managed to break it. Now every third fireball blows up in your face.

    But what exactly happened? How did the aether break? Exactly how and why do the spells fail? Can failure be prevented? is that where the anti-magic comes into play? These kinds of questions are riddled with stories and characters and drama.
    Rkcapps and Futhark like this.
  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Tip #1: pick something no one else has. :)

    There's no way for you to know how to make a unique system without knowing all systems, which ain't gonna happen. You're really talking about what is new to *you*. And since I don't know what you do and don't know, I can't advise as to uniqueness. Uniquity? That ought to be a word.

    Anyway, it sounds like you already have some ideas. Why not play them out further? If they lead to stories, then that's great and who cares if the system is unique or not? I certainly don't. Just give me the story.
  5. Futhark

    Futhark Inkling

    Start with a list of what you do want. Work out how they do it. Is there a unified theory of magic, or different sources of power? What are the limits and dangers? Once you have a rough idea of these answers, you begin to see what is possible.

    This is what I did to create a magic system uniquely suitable for my story, which is probably a good way to look at uniquity
    TheCrystallineEntity and Rkcapps like this.
  6. C. R. Rowenson

    C. R. Rowenson Scribe

    This may sound odd, but if the magic system is tripping you up, you might consider to start somewhere else.
    Interesting systems can come from all kinds of places: story, character moments, cool effects, powerful theme, killer worldbuilding, religions, etc.
    So D. Gray WarriorD. Gray Warrior , in the story you are building this system for, what has you most excited? What one thing most energizes you to dive in and start building?
  7. Rkcapps

    Rkcapps Sage

    You can read Brandon Sanderson's blog here: Sanderson's First Law | Brandon Sanderson. He talks about soft magic, hard magic and in between. This can help you shape your ideas. Also find a word that indicate to the reader your characters are using magic. In Naomi Novik's award-winning novel Uprooted, I think her word is "working".
    Darkfantasy and C. R. Rowenson like this.
  8. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Inkling

    I haven't got that far yet and I feel like I'm purposefully avoiding it because I have no clue yet. In the "real world" my human character has no magical powers but in "the dream world" she can do anything, but the key to that is unlocking the limitations the real world has put on her mind. No idea how that's going to work yet.

    I second Brandon Sanderson, but I watched a video of his a while back. A young woman was talking about writing YA and I felt a lot of the information she gave was incorrect. He arranged for her to talk to his class. This made me question him a little bit and I also find he doesn't go into much detail. I watched one of his character videos and he covered really basic stuff but touched on nothing really deep.
  9. KJF

    KJF Acolyte

    I usually think in terms of costs and limitations. Those help build conflict, often internal conflict for the character. What are they willing to do to use the power to achieve something? You say in her dream world she can do anything, she's unlimited. That might be part of what's tripping you up. In the dream world she's a goddess and there are no consequences for what she does. Try putting some limitations/constraints on her in the dreamworld and see what develops. Maybe what she does there has a negative consequence on her life in the non-dream world. That's not a new idea but there's plenty of room for you to bring your own take.

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