1. Shmoodle
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    Shmoodle Member

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    Fantasy Magic Systems

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Shmoodle, Mar 13, 2011.

    Recently, I have been attempting to plot out a long fantasy series, but I came stumped at what magic system to use, and how to make it truly unique. I personally think that the whole drawing power from the elements (Earth, Air, Water, Fire) is over used. When I read a book which has a fresh and original magic system it makes the story so much more interesting for me personally, for example, "The Final Empire" by Brandon Sanderson has an amazing magic system. It was one of the main hooks to the storyline I thought.

    So, I set out to create a completely new unique magic system. I didn't want my magic system to be out and out, power to destroy the world kind of magic. I wanted it to be limiting and subtle but hint towards a greater power somewhere. After long thoughts upon this, here is what I've came up with...

    Every Human of the world has an object (a token) which is unique to them, and the object has one power which only the beholder can lock into. Now these powers fall into one of three categories: "Strength", "Luck" or "Heart". The powers that the objects give their holders are not particularly strong, for example the main character's object is a die (Luck) and it warns him when danger is near or when something fortunate may occur. Another main character has an arrowhead which will always point where you need to go or to a safe place (Heart). What is special about these objects is that they are part of the soul of the human. They are uniquely bound to their person, similar to how Phillip Pullman's Daemons in "His Dark Materials" are part of the soul of the humans they are bound to (Though this did not give any inspiration to my magic system, I have just noticed the similarities).

    Every single person in the world has one of these objects, so everyone has a unique power. This "power", I have called The Anima, which comes from the Latin for soul. In the world there are people who can tap further into their Anima than others and can unlock further powers and this is where the real magic occurs. This "tapped into" magic still is limited by the three categories mentioned previously, however.

    So, what I'm asking is two questions really, do you think that the same old magic systems get boring after a while? And also, would my magic system be a breath of fresh air to fantasy magic and would it attract you to the story?

    Maybe I just haven't read enough fantasy stories to find one with a similar magic system to what I've came up with...

    I would appreciate any comments, thanks :).
     
  2. Arathald
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    Arathald Contributing Member

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    One of my favorite magic systems is the one Jim Butcher uses in the Dresden files. I like it because he has done his research very thoroughly, and it is based on the magical traditions of several different cultures. I think that a magic system only gets boring if both the system and the characters' uses of it are exactly like another author's (e.g. fantasy novels that copy Tolkien's world completely, including its magic system -- yes, it has a very developed one, it's just more subtle than some).

    Your magic system doesn't directly conflict with traditional systems, though the choice of three "elements" is interesting. Most magic systems have elements paired for balance, so this will lead to some more interesting interactions between them, so as long as you can handle that and make it believable, your system should be fine.

    There are a lot of specifics to think about and make work together: Do people always have these objects, or do they have to find them? Create them? What happens if a person is separated from this object? What happens when the object is destroyed? Does the deeper magic also rely on the objects?
     
  3. JTheGreat
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    JTheGreat Contributing Member

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    I concur ;D. This system seems very interesting and thought-out. I agree that elemental and naming magical systems are a bit played-out. Good work :)!
     
  4. Dragonmaker
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    Dragonmaker New Member

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    Perhaps the power of the soul, or spirit each of us possesses has much to do with the "magic" we are able to wield? A token can be carried, lost, or stolen and that would provide the basis for some storytelling as well...no? The soul cannot be stolen, or perhaps it can, it depends on whose story you're telling and if you want that angle or not to be in it. I'm working on a fantasy novel with some magic elements to it, but haven't yet come up with a really believable magical system either. Your idea will not work for me, but the one I'm partial to deals with the more customary knowledge of herbs and minerals used to make potions and poultices and the like. Limited and done, again and again, but it works and makes since because magic is nothing more than science unexplained. Hope this all helps in some way. Good luck on the book!
    Dragonmaker
     
  5. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think elemental magic is overdone - personally think it is unexplored which is why I am writing it exploring new aspects with it (mine works with a combination of firefly energy streams). This is mine it's evolved since - Elemental Magic

    For me it's not the magic that attracts or detracts me to a fantasy book - it's the stories and the characters - how the author handles the interactions. For me the magic system is secondary, I would rather have a blinding story with a wizard waving a wand going abracadabra, than a fabulous inventive type of magic that drowns out the story.

    Whatever magic you use it's important to make it part of the story.
     
  6. tcol4417
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    tcol4417 Member

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    There's no such thing as a "new" magic system, because magic essentially boils down to a single concept.

    Whatever you come up with doesn't have to make the slightest sense - it's MAGIC. Terry Pratchett addresses this: Magic makes excuses to no-one for nothing. Why? Because it's MAGIC. It's like Ninjas - You can't argue with it.

    Don't get too caught up in the mechanics - just assume that it works and tailor the system to suit your story as it develops.
     
  7. Arathald
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    Arathald Contributing Member

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    I feel that's like saying you can never have a new approach to technology. Just because it's all the same at the surface, there's so many specifics and subtleties that you can create something of your own (though it will certainly look similar to other magic systems in some respects -- it's incredibly hard to find a genuinely new idea).

    A common pitfall in magic systems is to play fast and loose with the rules, then your magic becomes a deus ex machina device wherever and whenever you get stuck.

    I don't think you should be taking Terry Pratchett's approach to a magic system unless you're planning on writing a comedic novel. In his case, fast and loose works. He's making fun of magic, and of other books that use it, so for him, deus ex machina plot devices work incredibly well. If you're writing serious fiction, not so much.

    You might be able to get away with this, but if you're not careful, you'll be applying your rules inconsistently. Even if you don't show them to the reader, you should have set rules for what your magic can and can't do.


    Interestingly enough, my plot has evolved from pure Sci-Fi into Sci-Fi with a full magic system, so I've been doing my own research. I'm currently reading through A General Theory of Magic by Robert Brain, which discusses magical traditions of a number of different real-world cultures. I'm going to find something that appeals to me from one or more real magic beliefs and use those, with likely modifications.
     
  8. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    While the 'system of magic' in a novel/world is important, it's the story and the characters that will make or break it.
     
  9. Arathald
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    Arathald Contributing Member

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    Right, a story shouldn't be driven by the magic, but by the characters that use it -- or don't. You don't want your magic system to be so scatterbrained that it becomes distracting, though.
     
  10. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think magic only gets boring if there are no limits there is not cost to use it. Because if it lacks those two things, why doesn't magic solve all problems in that world.

    Your magic system sounds interesting, just don't let it overshadow your story and characters. :D
     
  11. zilly
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    zilly Senior Member

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    This is an interesting twist on a Xanth-like system (you may want to check out that series if you are unfamiliar with it).

    I'm planning to do something similar once I finish a couple projects that I'm working on. I like magic that is very limited like you have set up. I think your system could definitely be the premise of a good story line. I really like that the power comes from an item too. It could be interesting to see if someone had the ability to use other character's items some how or what happens if a character loses his/her item.
     
  12. flaze
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    flaze New Member

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    I think your idea's interesting, but I would ask why and how do they have these objects? Are they born with them, or given them? If they're given them, does that make the magic external or internal? What would that mean in terms of the magic being connected to their souls?

    This is something I've been struggling with recently. I want a fully worked out, logical system of magic--insofar as that makes sense, lol--but thinking on my favourite author, Feist, he never clarifies anything about where magic comes from, or whether it's internal, external or whatever... He just assumes his characters can use it, and often just by using their will. Sometimes they chant, sometimes they don't, but for whatever reason it works, and no one worries about it.

    I wonder then, how important it is for magic to be fully worked out...!
     
  13. tcol4417
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    The warning is more to do with getting caught up in the minutia. Worrying about how what is essentially a way of cheating the world works makes you feel like you have to make excuses for it.

    "This complete abomination of physics actually makes total sense because they're really just channeling the will of a ice lord who has access to the ether via a series of magical crystals that are thousands of years old and sentient from another planet in another dimension where this kind of thing is totally normal but had to leave because the unemployment rate was too high."

    Look at Avatar: The Last Airbender. They meditate through martial arts, and then magic. That's all the explanation you get. Martial arts > Meditation > Magic. Even before you find out that there are moon spirits and such, it's not too difficult to shrug and smile.

    Kung fu = Magic. Kung fu is interchangeable with pretty much anything. No biggie.

    If you start trying to construct an elaborate set of interdependencies then not only will you bog the reader down in needless bureaucratic nonsense (You can't cast a fire spell without filling out the appropriate paperwork and attending the six month correspondence course on proper occupational health and safety guidelines regarding naked flames and the throwing thereof) but you also run the risk of breaking your own rules because you lose track of them (I've read more than a couple of stories where a major action late in the story wasn't technically possible within the rules they had established previously.)

    Have fun with it, just don't knock yourself out.
     
  14. chrisspartan416
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    chrisspartan416 New Member

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    Your idea on magic sounds very interesting. It seems to show promise. My personal opinion on magic is that it isn't a character in your story, it is a tool to be used by your character and used to further the plot. If it doesn't further the story or flesh out a character more in a point it is used, then it shouldn't be used.
    Remember. Over use of magic in a book can cause it to be dull and boring after a while. Make the magic work for your story, not your story work for the magic. I know that was off topic, but it just felt like something that should be remembered.
    Best of luck fully realizing your magic system. :)
     
  15. Chromacide
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    Magic Ideas

    I have always been interested in creative methods of magic.

    Yes, there are those that say "magic is merely a side characters, focus on your people," I beg to differ. If you have a world with magic, that world will be fundamentally different from ours. Imagine our world without the Roman empire and how vastly different it would be today--incomparable. Likewise, treat your magic system with as much delicacy and care as the rest of your characters. Even if the system isn't absolutely innovative, fleshing it out more or handling it differently can change the story greatly. Take Scott Bakker's Prince of Nothing series: only a few people have magical abilities, they learn how to say various cants, and then there is great and powerful magic. Standard fair, but Bakker takes it to another level, creating a fascinating culture and history and series of methods. In Bakker's world, usage of magic came at the cost of rejection by the whole of society, constant threat of being lynched, and damned your immortal soul. Despite the fact that sorcerers were in position of power and wealth, they were invariably the object of fear and hatred.

    However, merely embellishing the traditional methods isn't the only option. I love to see an entirely new method of magic that deviates completely from previous designs (Terry Pratchett's magicians always had me laughing, and they were quite different and almost always incompetent, which was a refreshing change). I've spent a bit of thought in coming up with different ideas.

    You could try a magic based entirely on mathematic rules and foundation. There could be a magic that inflicts whatever the caster did upon the caster himself. How about a system a complete absence of intrinsic biological magic and instead there is only enchanting of inanimate objects, which is the sole source of magical power. Magic could also be completely dependent on some sort of substance. It could be so esoteric as to be rendered incomprehensible (the common peoples cannot understand its appearance, form, or effects) to anyone who has not spent decades studying the matter. Expounding upon that last suggestion, perhaps a magic that does not take any visible form but instead seeps into the cracks of the universe or the human mind and makes changes ever so slowly but far more momentously than a single bolt of flame. How about each mage has a set amount of magic they are born with, and must learn to ration it out over their lifetimes? Magic could also be associated with physical and mental disabilities and mutations due to the bizarre effects of magical fields--I'd love to see wizards as idiot savants or irreparably crippled.

    Just a few basic ideas, feel free to expound upon them and use them however you wish, or combine them or whatever.
     

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