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  1. Viserion

    Viserion Senior Member

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    Does my setting need magic?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Viserion, Dec 7, 2020.

    I’ve been working on a book project for quite a while, and recently I have begun to wonder if I need magic.

    Magic’s always been very light and kept in the shadows, plot wise, and I have begun to wonder if I need it at all.

    Any thoughts on whether or not a fantasy book needs magic?
     
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  2. Madman

    Madman Life is Sacred Contributor

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    Depends.

    Does magic add something to the story? Or is it just there "because"? If it is just there "because" then you can probably remove it all together.

    I would say that a fantasy book does not always need magic.
     
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  3. TheOtherPromise

    TheOtherPromise Senior Member

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    I'd say in order to be fantasy the book needs some element of the fantastical. This doesn't necessarily need to be magic per se, it could be things like dragons or elves.

    However I do think fantasy should feel magical. If you go too far explaining how the dragons and elves work without magic, it would probably slip into sci-fi instead of fantasy. There can be a lot of overlap between sci-fi and fantasy, after all, and magic is the easiest way to tell the two apart.
     
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  4. Storysmith

    Storysmith Senior Member

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    How would your book be fantasy if it had no magic? And if you rip out the fantasy and/or magic entirely, what does that do to the feel of the story? I think you've got to ask yourself what feels best. You can have a very low-magic setting, but that will always feel different to a no-magic setting.
     
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  5. Viserion

    Viserion Senior Member

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    It would be fantasy because it’s an entirely different world. One with its own history and lore.
     
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  6. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Contributor Contributor

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    If I were you I'd look up the definition of Fantasy and see if magic defines the genre. It's tricky because not all Fantasy stories are set in another world/planet or universe. Just look at Urban Fantasy; most of it is set in our time and world. To me Fantasy isn't about setting or places it's simply about "unrealistic" things or things we know don't exist or plays on uncertainties. Maybe look to see if there are any other fantasy stories like yours that don't include magic. Some do have low key magic. Maybe you need to be more widely in that genre.
     
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  7. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 HP: 10/190 Status: Confused Contributor

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    You have giant fire breathing dragons. It's fantasy, with or without magic.
     
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  8. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin I don't feel tardy.... Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Unless you robots. Then it's science fiction??
     
  9. Viserion

    Viserion Senior Member

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    This is a different idea, I’m afraid.
     
  10. Lazaares

    Lazaares Contributor Contributor

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    Of course there can be fantasy without magic. I generally dislike the "Tick the following boxes and see if it applies" approach to pushing fiction into genres. I hit up "What makes fiction fantasy" and the first "5 things" list had two points that were missing from the LOTR trilogy, and only one point was applicable to the first ever acknowledge fantasy book.

    I generally believe the perception of "magic" for the fantasy genre has been ruined by RPG games, both tabletop and computer-based. For a long, long time it was a mysterious piece, a clandestine concept often incomprehensible for mortals hidden behind a facade of rituals. Most often, the only magic main characters truly interacted with or used were artifacts. Dungeons and Dragons' popularity likely skewed this vision by introducing sword & sorcery as a genre, which has slowly seeped into fantasy to "infect" it. By now, most if not all "X things you need in a fantasy novel" pages I open quote a magic system - despite none of the original fantasy works explicitly having one.

    An interesting experiment to note:

    In 2017 I was part of a staff setting up a new roleplay community with its own fantasy world. Instead of swinging along the usual lines we decided it'd be interesting to gauge our community (40ish people) and poll them on what they wish to see and what they don't want to see in a brand new fantasy world. I reckon you'll find the results interesting:
    • Almost every single member agreed that we don't need magic as it is in sword & sorcery worlds. Magic, instead, was written as a more ritualistic, more clandestine and powerful force behind curtains.
    • The majority agreed we need no fantasy races, and instead physical customization / variety should be amongst humans.
    • The majority agreed that we should set the world in a renaissance / late-medieval setting and away from crude dark age medievalism.
     
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  11. Viserion

    Viserion Senior Member

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    That is interesting!

    Now, here’s a thought: what about magic that cannot be replicated and is only present in a few? Something more like ’superpowers’, if that makes sense.

    For instance, in a book of mine there are three individuals with wildly differing powers. Two of them are backstory characters, whose actions changed the world. One was immune to a different form of magic, essentially the gods. Another could manipulate the flesh and blood of anyone who heard his voice. And the last could transform into a dragon.
     
  12. Lazaares

    Lazaares Contributor Contributor

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    That's exactly the form of "magic" you saw in Lord of the Rings, isn't it? And that's also exactly the form of "magic" in ASOIAF / Game of Thrones.
     
  13. Viserion

    Viserion Senior Member

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    Ehh... Not exactly. In ASOIAF, we see multiple Red Priests, and their powers follow a similar logic and use. Same in LOTR.
     
  14. Lazaares

    Lazaares Contributor Contributor

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    Now now, if by "only present in a few" you are meaning unique powers for individuals - then that's superpowers, yes. Wouldn't call it a magic system or magic either, since you'd be giving out individual powers.

    Not saying, however, that it wouldn't be fantasy. That more depends on the context of these powers, the setting and the atmosphere.
     
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  15. Viserion

    Viserion Senior Member

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    The three do have a connection, in a way, and one does spawn a typical magic system after his death. They’re just wildly different expressions of the same concept.
     
  16. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 HP: 10/190 Status: Confused Contributor

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    By the hoary hosts of Hoggoth, I agree with this!
     
  17. Fervidor

    Fervidor Senior Member

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    How do you define "magic" here? Are there any other supernatural elements? You know, gods, demons, ghosts, creatures with clearly unnatural abilities, etc.

    Well, not really. Strictly speaking magic is just a device, something you put into the story because it serves a purpose.

    It's just that fantasy is all about letting the reader imagine a world of wonders. Fantasy stories are mythical, set in larger-than-life worlds forged out of dreams. Magic is a staple of the genre because it's an allegory for human imagination: The ability to do impossible things and transcend our mundane reality. In a certain sense, we created the fantasy genre as a place where magic is "allowed."

    You can definitely write a fantasy story without a magic system, just be mindful that you don't stray too close to realism and miss the whole point of the genre.
     
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  18. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Conspicuously Conventional Contributor

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    Not to derail the thread, but many fantasy fans (I being one of them) credit Robert E. Howard as the one who popularized Sword & Sorcery. Obviously that would put the genre as much older than D&D. Honestly, I view D&D and similar RPG worlds as Tolkien-esque High Fantasy, as opposed to Sword & Sorcery.
     
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2020
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  19. Aldarion

    Aldarion Active Member

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    Maybe not, though it is questionable whether that book would be classed as fantasy without magic. But best usage of magic IMO is Tolkien: magic permeates the world, the entirety of it - but it is also kept to the background. It is not an "in your face" type of thing, the likes of which you can see in Warhammer Fantasy or even A Song of Ice and Fire. It is present everywhere - lembas, murvivor, Sting, Barrow-blades, Narsil, Orthanc, Othram (city wall of Minas Tirith), palantir, Mount Doom, dragons and, obviously, One Ring - but most of that is basically supranatural variant of already existing things (for example, both lembas and cram appear to be variants of the trench cake).
     
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  20. Reece

    Reece Senior Member

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    As an almost exclusive fantasy reader, I love magic. I don't need it, but I crave it.
     
  21. Azuresun

    Azuresun Senior Member

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    There's a lot of wrong assertions here, along with the pointlessly perjorative language like "infect". Generally in sword and sorcery novels, magic is a scary and unknown thing (and often associated with evil). And sword and sorcery existed as a genre for at least 40 years before D&D arrived.

    And an appeal to "the original fantasy works" is meaningless. Genres change and evolve. Even going old-school, Ursula LeGuin, Jack Vance and Michael Moorcock had magic systems in the Earthsea / Dying Earth / Elric series' that weren't exhaustively detailed, but had clear boundaries and limits on what spellcasters could and couldn't do--indeed, Vance's system was the inspiration for D&D's magic system, as the lifting of spells like "Prismatic Spray" show.
     
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  22. Lazaares

    Lazaares Contributor Contributor

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    I am sorry - with regards to the topic at hand, what do you wish to imply? From your wording I take it you mean that classic fantasy may have had no framework for magic but nowadays all fantasy works need it.

    Dungeons and Dragons evolved parallel with Sword and Sorcery; the guys started developing games in the late 60s and the genre's name was first ever mentioned in the early 60s. By "the original fantasy works" I did not mean 50s and 60s works, but 19th century and pre-war fantasy works. My argument was that they existed all fine without a magic system; and that the genre did evolve in a way where there are expectations - but I also don't think these expectations are hard-set rules. Especially because the originals did not adhere to them.

    That's sort-of the point of change and genre evolution, nothing is firm and certain apart from the general idea and purpose of a genre. The Warcraft universe can hardly be regarded as fantasy by original and modern standards either; though for ~10 million people it's their daily definition of fantasy.
     
  23. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Conspicuously Conventional Contributor

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    Why not?
     
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  24. Azuresun

    Azuresun Senior Member

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    I'm implying exactly what I said; your assertions are wrong.

    Conan the Barbarian and many similar stories were published in the 1930's. It's true the term "swords & sorcery" for the subgenre wasn't used to replace "heroic fantasy" till Fritz Leiber coined it, but in context, Leiber was trying to find a term to refer to an existing and well-established subgenre, not one that had only just sprang up. It's semantics, and a distinction without a difference.

    And to throw some dates in, D&D was first published in 1974 and (as already mentioned) based its magic system on Vance's already popular novels, while the term "swords & sorcery" had first been coined thirteen years earlier. The numbers just aren't there for your hypothesis.

    And occult traditions that existed in history (from which fantasy magic is mostly derived) commonly had very detailed and precise rules about how they supposedly worked, so it seems like you're cherry-picking a few sources from a very specific and relatively obscure period of fantasy fiction and arbitrarily declaring them "original" fantasy basically because you say so.


    Basically, some good old gatekeeping. The stuff the kids these days like isn't REAL fantasy!
     
  25. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 HP: 10/190 Status: Confused Contributor

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    And Le Morte D'Arthur was written in the 15th century, and it most certainly had swords and sorcery in it, while Homer's Odyssey dates to the 6th century BC.

    Honestly, does it really matter who called what when?

    Put whatever elements you want into your story - whatever elements it needs. If it doesn't need magic to make the story, why put it in?
     

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