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What are the consequences of NOT using magic in your world?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Rosemary Tea, Jun 5, 2021.

  1. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Maester

    Inspired by this thread, intended as a sort of companion thread. Seems that we tend to regard magic as a not-exactly-permissible thing that can only be used at costs ranging from the mildly annoying to, more often, the dire.

    But when you build a world with magic, does it have undesirable consequences for not using magic? Other, of course, than that if there were no magic, there would be no story. We're fantasy writers, after all. If we wanted to write about worlds without magic, we probably wouldn't be on this site.

    For mine, it seems that magic is enough a part of the world that someone has to handle it. Why? That's just how it is. Most people don't handle magic, that's the mages' job, and they're just one profession, but they're needed as much, if not more, than bankers and schoolteachers and smiths and whatnot. If you're not a mage, there are no consequences to you personally for not using magic, but if you ever need a mage's help, you'll be glad they're there. And if your village has never been attacked by demons, you've probably got the mages' preventive work to thank for that.

    If you are a mage, you have to use magic. Mages are made, not born--there's no magic gene--but the process of becoming a mage attunes you to magic. It's in you, it's part of you, and while you don't have to be using it every second--no sense in using magic for a task that hands can accomplish just as well--you do have to be working with it on a regular basis.

    There are also individuals who, while not born with magic, have life experiences that prime them for it. Childhood experiences can play a part--a disproportionate number of mages had a childhood near death experience, or significant childhood trauma, or both--but the real marker is a powerful surge of energy, similar to a kundalini experience, that happens at the time of puberty. If that happens to you, you don't necessarily have to choose to be a mage--you still have free will--but if you don't, your life will probably not turn out well. (The mages say it definitely won't, and they wholeheartedly believe that, but no one, at least in my story, has ever dared to try to prove them wrong.)

    People without any of those markers can also become mages, but for them, it's not such an urgent choice. They could choose another profession instead and do just fine. For those who are primed for magic, the consequences of not pursuing it are apt to be dire. If they do pursue it, that doesn't guarantee them an easy life, but it does mean an interesting life, and they tend to be the kind who prefer interesting to easy.
  2. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    In one of my main worlds... everyone can use magic... yes, everyone. There is no "surge at puberty" type of event, or ones driven by trauma or near-death experiences, they are born with the ability. Some are simply stronger than others; have the natural talent to do a lot with the magic, where others cannot do much. How this manifests depends on the culture. Among the primal "Ooljee" people, it is part of who they are as a people. Ones with "low magic ability" are generally scouts, hunter, warriors, but they still use some magic in defense of thier homeland, or to survive in extreme circumstances. Those with more ability tend to be "druids" (I never use that term in the story) and do more with it, though still along the lines of their "traditional" magics.

    Among their nearest neighbor... everyone is born with it, but out of tradition very few actually pursue it, as it is strictly enforced by the government. They generally value hard work, over using magic for every mundane thing. This creates a problem for some small percentage of the population. Since they are not trained to use it, and tradition tells them not to, in dire situations when heightened emotions are involved, random manifestations of magic can happen to disastrous consequences. Homes are set alight, livestock hit by lightning in a clear blue sky, exploding furniture, your own fellows suddenly become debilitatingly ill in the middle of a battle... whatever.
  3. Short answer: there wouldn't be a world.
  4. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Maester

    As in, you wouldn't have written the story? Or does the world you've built rely on magic to function?

    If it's just that you wouldn't have written the story, that doesn't count. :p
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  5. The latter. The magic system is integral to peoples' lives, as it's how they get food, drink, necessities, make art, communicate with passed-on loved ones, chose to die when they want to die, find partners, have children, and make sure the world isn't full of discarded junk.
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  6. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Inkling

    There's two definitions of "using magic": unconsciously (your body just does it) and consciously (I cast magic missile). Species that naturally have magic, like phoenixes and dragons, can live (theoretically) forever and can grow to huge sizes because magic "supplements" the natural biological processes (telomeres get auto-repaired etc). I guess, theoretically, such an individual could be born that doesn't even have that type of magic, but I imagine they wouldn't live very long, like anyone who's born without the ability to make a critical enzyme needed for living. There are a fair number of individuals of such species who do not "use magic" in the definition that you're going for. There are also some species that don't have any sort of magic, either, and they can leave normal, fulfilling lives (at least in the eyes of their own species).

    But not being able to use magic can be a hassle. When you grow large enough, speech from your vocal organs is very difficult for others to understand. Being able to start telepathic conversations is incredibly easy to do, so those who cannot are those who can't use magic*. There's times and situations where telepathic speech is a much better (or only) option, and you'd have to have someone else "start" the conversation with you to do it. If 2 parties wish to use telepathy but neither can use magic, they would need a 3rd party to "set it up," and there's inherent privacy issues there. Another one is writing: it's very difficult for phoenixes to write with their talons when they get above a certain size, but even for those who can do it via magic, many choose to have a scribe do it instead, since it costs less energy/is a thing Fancy Important People do.

    A community that has no or little access to magic is not a rich community, as it's a highly-trained skill and having such people in an area tends to "gentrify" it. The people of said community are also kinda screwed if there's any sort of medical emergency or serious illness since magical healing is fairly common (though can be expensive). Dying during childbirth isn't as common of a thing if you have access to magic...but most people can't afford to have someone on standby Just In Case. Magic can also be used to juice up crystals, which then gives it off as light. If you've ever tried to read by candlelight, you know how much it absolutely sucks, as well as the dangers in using fire for illumination. Most people pay guy to come around every so often to charge the lights; it's seen as pretty low-class to not have at least 1 such light.

    * To get really granular, it's the ability to use magic in such a way that it extends outside of your body. For most individuals in my novel, if they can use magic, they can do this, but there is one species where each individual's magical ability is incredibly narrow in scope, so for most of them, they aren't able to do this, as most can't extend magic beyond themselves
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  7. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    Magic in my setting is common, but not quite ubiquitous. A middle class person might be able to save enough for one or two magic items or spell casts the way we might save up for a car, and might have one or two more items passed down through the family. Most people might see magic on display at a festival or in the park, but might not ever have real access to it. Not using magic equates to having to work harder for less.

    There's a worldwide political extremist group that's all about getting magical people to use their magic for the good of everybody, and another that's more like a militia terrorist group that wants to bring all the magic users down. Late in the story, I'm planning a banter-filled chapter from the POV of an elf and dwarf villain team who are members of these groups, respectively.
  8. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Maester

    So who makes the magic items? Are there corporate run magic factories? High class mages or wizards who get rich making and selling those expensive things? Something else?

    Sounds like lots of fun! Both to write and to read.
  9. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Auror

    No consequences in my worlds.

    As I've said before I am not terribly interested in magical powers and stuff so magic can be a spice to my stories but never the key component.
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  10. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    As concerns the story, most are made elsewhere and imported by merchants. There are a dozen different types of magic, and the one that's "local" and the center of the story is fairy magic, which is wielded mostly by sprites and hobs (tiny house spirits). We'll see elves, dwarves, wizards, and more, but mostly as petty villains, parodies, and background characters. The two MCs are both sprites, and they have no need for other types of magic.

    Sprites and hobs can also make magic items, very easily in fact. Depending on how magical they are, each one can make create and maintain between 0 and 6 fairy charms, which are small magic items that occasionally give the carrier a little bit of luck. The factory in town buys most of them to use on cheap equipment parts to keep them from breaking all the time and slowing up production. Since a fairy can "cancel" one of their fairy charms at any time, they get paid each week the part doesn't break.
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2021
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  11. Orc Knight

    Orc Knight Auror

    Well, Eld would die a very undignified death, as magic is part of the very existence of the world. The entire universe, in fact. There's a reason one of the hard points among the multiverse in which it exists is the Lich Wars. The undead are parasitic magic eaters, all take and no give to simply exist. In the 'verses where they have won, the world dies, the universe dies, then eventually they all crumble to dust in a long painful death. Possibly ironically fitting.

    But yeah, it'd be very sucky and actually a part of the main story is simply trying to restart the magic after the whole Lich Wars ended. Little over a century back it was the Age of High Magic. Also alternatively the Age of Legends, because of the sheer feats that happened in that time. From bringing down fortresses made of mountains and taking down several deities. Actually killing many of them.
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  12. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Inkling

    Well, I'd answer your question with another question. What happens if there is magic but people don't know about it?

    As a sort of real life parallell, consider nuclear physics. Up until the point where someone created the bomb, most people didn't know it existed and it had no impact on their lives. Then we got the bomb, then nuclear power. And suddenly it mattered.

    At least in my setting, the characters know nothing about magic or sorcery. There are legends and folk tales about things like that, and about dragons and ogres. But the characters have never met any such creatures, nor have they met anyone who uses magic. Which is not to say that magic doesn't exist or that it doesn't get used...
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  13. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Maester

    In the world/universe in which the bulk of my fantasy stories are set, magic is very much an inherited ability (a straightforward recessive gene thing) so some few have the gift and most don't. The problems arise with those who don't know they are sorcerers and, not being trained—i.e. not 'using' magic—are prone to seeming hallucinations and to being driven to madness. In fact, the 'hallucinations' are glimpses into the infinite other worlds that exist (at least in potential). They need to use magic to keep magic from destroying them, so to speak.

    I have been dabbling at another world where magic is a fundamental physical force, like gravity (but not like gravity maybe). Everyone can use it, but to use it well, one must be talented. As with art—anyone can draw stick figures but only a few can paint masterpieces. So, for most people, it is not something they use much and it doesn't make much difference. This doesn't keep the young and stupid from attempting love spells, of course, but most (not all, to be sure) learn not to dabble in time.
  14. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Maester

    Then for all practical purposes, magic isn't part of that world. That may change if someone discovers magic. Just like in the example you gave:

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  15. Malise

    Malise Scribe

    In my world, everyone (of the Apsara species) has a muscle-filled organ (Kheira) in their hands that allows them to use 'spells' (in the form of Khei). Most people have 5 to 7 Khei (Max is 10, since you store one Khei in a fingernail bed). One to two Khei is typically reserved for combat spells, while the rest are for utility + health benefits.

    Consequences of not using magic/Khei
    - You become physically unfit since you're not exercising your Kheira with the rest of your body.
    - Khei slowly builds up toxins in the nailbed, which makes your hand slowly become diseased. Using spells is the body's way of cleaning itself from Khei waste.
    - Some apsaras are born with a literal 'trigger finger', that fires Khei when the user doesn't want it to fire. Having Khei toxin build-up makes the condition worse
    - If an apsara can't use their Kheira at all, they're considered disabled. They're more likely to get sick (as the Kheira is linked to the immune system) and they can't defend themselves well against people with Khei (which is basically everyone).
  16. Holder of the Heel

    Holder of the Heel Acolyte

    My current idea for magic isn't something that is used or not used, but rather an aspect of the self that must be respected. It is inhibitive by nature, but seen as valuable by tradition. Typically it is something one is born with, as it is central to the peoples' identity, but I am inclined to think that there is the possibility that a normal "barbarian" can be converted, and once upon a time in history that was a common practice until the expansionism of the past devolved into isolationism.
  17. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    Not much of an answer but in my setting, normal people use magic every day without realizing it. Wizards know they’re using it and thus can use it more effectively.
    A person not using magic in this setting is like a person in the real world not using art or physics. It happens but on average, people use them all the time even if not everyone is an artist or physicist.
  18. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

    It depends on the setting for me, but the clearest example of a consequence to not using magic comes from the science fantasy setting I've been toying with.

    Now, in the backstory it was a fairly standard urban fantasy setting complete with a masquerade. However, once humanity reached the stars they found a galaxy was closer to Spelljammer than Star Trek. Turns out that magic was the secret ingredient to develop all those sci fi goodies like FTL or teleporters all along. Who woulda guessed?

    As a result of this Earth is horribly under-teched (under-magiced?) compared to others on the galactic scene and have a lot of catching up to do. Earth's survived by becoming a vassal state of the local space empire, but naturally the leaders of Earth aren't really happy with playing a bit part in interstellar politics.
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  19. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Inkling

    I do include magic systems but they tend to enhance plot or character if they offer nothing much then I just ditch them. In a Sci-fi Fantasy the Magic needed to be complex and run with the Science of my planet as it was being used in a medical fashion (they were learning to do heart transplants for the first time).
    Magic does spice things up but I try to avoid using it as a "get out of jail" card. Often I find magic is the main plot hole in lots of stories.
    I read one where this benevolent God-like creature came to a few individuals and sent them on a mission to begin early preparations for the invasion of an evil into their world. She sent 5 mortals to do a deadly job, and the writer set her up as all powerful and light magic being the most powerful (which she possesses). So why send mortals, why couldn't she have done it herself in seconds? She was the only one really bothered, the mortals did it for the promise of a reward. The writer didn't really execute it well. Because I just kept asking myself this question throughout.
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  20. ladyander

    ladyander Dreamer

    In my currently world. It's already a bit of a low magic world meaning that magic use is exclusive to a certain body of people. Taking out the magical bits, the story would still exist. I could still have the same characters, it's just that their function would be different. The focus really isn't on the magic use. The magical bits are just the flavor to make it clear these characters aren't human or their world is different from ours.

    I did this because I wanted to step it down so I could create a fantasy story with no magic.
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.

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