Yes, it's another magic entry. Last time I just blathered on about my magic system; this time I want to talk about magic in general. For the purposes of this entry, those who use magic will be referred to as mages, the use of magic is casting, and the end effect is a spell.
There are dozens upon dozens of different types of magic. In her guide Magical World Building, Stephanie Cottrell Bryant describes four basic types:
- Sorcery: Also called wizardry, this is the classical magic - chant a spell, draw upon some energy, and get the desired effect.
- Divine: This is similar to sorcery, but the source of the caster's power comes from a greater being - divine, demonic, or something else.
- Psychic: Psychic powers like telepathy and clairvoyance are generally not considered magical abilities, but there are some series that use mental powers that could be considered magic - Robin Hobb's Wit and Skill are good examples. The power is manifested straight from the user's mind and generally has a limited range of use.
- Items: Magic can only be used through the use of specific items. R.A. Salvatore's Demon Wars Saga is a good example of this; casters harness the energy inherent in gemstones to achieve the desired effect. One book I read called Masks (E.C. Blake) had magic as a physical liquid; the only way mages could use magic was if they had some of it at hand, and it would be used up when the spell was cast. I've read a couple sources where magic was too unstable to use effectively without a refining focus (wand, staff, etc.) - and, of course, there are the ones like Harry Potter where you actually need a wand to cast magic.
How common are mages?
Is it like Avatar, where every third person is a Bender, or more like Conan, where magic is extremely rare? Is magic inherent, inborn, or learned? By that, I mean:
Is it endemic to one or more races? There should be a reason why those races are inherently magical.
Are some people born with the ability? If so, who, and how? Is it only passed down through bloodlines, is it random, or is there some other criteria entirely?
Can anyone learn to use it? This is often the case with wizardry - in Patrick Rothfuss' Name of the Wind series, for example, people can be trained to learn the Names of things in order to control them or use their power.
Is your world high- or low-magic (or somewhere in between)? Avatar is a great example of a high-magic world - people have incorporated Bending into their everyday lives like we did with technology, using it to make things easier. Keep in mind two things, though:
1) The tech level for such worlds is likely to be higher than normal, as people will have invented things to take advantage of magic (it really depends on the type of magic here, but basically anything that makes work easier - everything from horseless carriages to communication devices to weapons.
2) There was another thing, but I forgot it. If I ever remember, I'll put it in here.
How does everyone view magic?
For starters, I'll to link to a blog post I found.
I'll just add my own thoughts: People's views of magic will be colored by how magic has been used in the past. Let's hie back Avatar yet again: Benders are common, but people view them differently depending on where they are (talking about Aang's version here): the Fire Nation was a bunch of power-hungry dicks, so people naturally feared them. Contrarily, Earth and Water Benders were well-liked and respected in their countries because they served the people.
In WoT, the Aes Sedai are not nearly as common, and they tend to hide their capabilities from the masses (not to mention they act high and mighty to boot), so the common folk hate and fear them.
Humans tend to fear that which they don't understand. This is why, in low-magic worlds where mages are rare, someone walking down the street with a glowing ball floating over his head would draw all kinds of attention - and not just the "Ooh look, pretty!" variety.
However, as Atsiko (yes, he's a guy) mentioned in his post, if mages in a low-magic world were open and helpful with their magic, people would better understand and come to appreciate them; likewise, if the mages in a high-magic world used their power to oppress the masses, use their powers for their own good, or simply avoided contact with the normals, people would still view magic and mages with distrust and/or fear. It's all in how you set things up.
Magical items. Do they exist?
- How are they made (and how easily)? Can any old mage go down to the corner store, buy the components, and enchant a light wand to sell at the market, or are they incredibly rare because the formulae have been lost for centuries (cliche)? Can they only be created by greater beings (read: gods and demons)?
- How common are they? Obviously, items that are easier to make are more likely to be more common, but that doesn't mean they have to be.
- How powerful are they? Magic items can range from minor potions and glowstones to continent-levelling artifacts.
- Who can use them? Are they restricted to those with magical ability, can anyone use them, or are they a mix of the two?
* Atsiko's blog on magic: Some interesting stuff here.
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