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  1. Gomorrah

    Gomorrah New Member

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    help developing a magic system

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Gomorrah, Jan 22, 2017.

    So, in my story one of my main characters is a sorceress/wizard (she is both) and i need to make a magical system. I have one word so far but i need a system. Like how would one go about making a spell and and magical grammar. In other words im making a language but not... i want to do something like harry potter if you follow what i mean. Point is anyone got any ideas?
     
  2. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    And what is the difference between the two in the world you're creating?

    Any system of magic is going to be about more than just the words that the spellcaster uses: what can magic do, what can't it do, how much practice does it take to get from the weaker magics to the stronger, what resources are required for what purposes...

    I'm actually taking a lot from Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files books in my own work about not making it completely systematic. The basic idea is that magic is more of an art than an exact science, and the example from Butcher's work that inspired me the most, in terms of the effect that world-building can have on characterization, was:

    Mages have to choose their own words for the spells they use. The White Council of Mages uses Latin for all official proceedings, but Harry Dresden's abusive surrogate father and arcane mentor wanted to isolate Harry from anybody who could help him (as abusive parents are wont to do), so he trained Harry to focus on Latin words when practicing magic. After years of committing to Latin as his basis for magic, Dresden now runs into trouble with the White Council – not least of which for, in the words of the (far inferior) TV adaptation, self-defencing his mentor to death – because when he is brought before them officially, Dresden has to either A) speak English, make a fool of himself in the eyes of the old guard, and undercut his ability to persuade them to the point that he's trying to make, or B) speak Latin and everything explodes.
     
  3. QualityPen

    QualityPen Member

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    Simpson17866 is right that you should develop a consistent system of magic for your universe and stay faithful to that system as much as you can. The essence of your laws of magic is much more important than the words your characters throw out to cast their spells.

    In my novel the laws of magic are very rigid where humans are concerned. I modeled magic in my universe off of the laws of physics. As there is the law of conservation of energy (energy cannot be created or destroyed, merely manipulated), so too there is a law of conservation of magical energy. Wizards cannot cast a fireball out of nowhere, they must either focus and draw the heat from their surroundings or use their own energy to power their attack, but this severely drains them. That's easy enough to do in my universe because humans have only learned to use magic in extremely crude ways, usually as a weapon. Releasing an immense quantity of energy in a certain direction is one thing, something as complex as creating cell growth to heal wounds... well that is just sorcery. I've spent dozens of hours developing intricacies for my system of magic. At its core this approach does two things. It keeps magic consistent so your readers can easily follow the story and it retains an element of mystery and wonder for the characters. I find a story is more interesting when even powerful wizards are in awe of certain magic rather than regarding it as just another spell.

    Also keep in mind that magic should fundamentally alter your world. If everybody is able to shoot bolts of energy with the power of tank shells or move massive objects with magic, things like fortresses are rendered useless and it makes no sense for them to exist. Try to anticipate the effects your magic would have if introduced to a medieval world.

    There are many magic systems out there in print already, and I'm sure googling some will yield interesting results.
     
  4. Gomorrah

    Gomorrah New Member

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    Ok I think I follow how about this. So we have Mana (a term used in pop culture to describe magical energy) It's the....(thinking) its in everything. im not sure how do describe this idea(that isnt entirely original if we were to be honest). Ok so Mana is the source of all magic in all of the plains of existence . Its in everything from living things to the air and, magic is manipulating that Mana to do things that fall under the schools of magic. And from there we have the different words used in different magic schools to get mana to do different things. And then from there we run to what magic can and can not do which i think i can firmly say it can do almost anything but will things out of existence or manipulate time and it cant bring things back to life that has already left the plain of existence its body was on or if the soul is not in purgatory. Also if the spell isnt such a spell it cant be created. so there is only a billion spells or so, maybe a bit more but not infinite. As well as the need for spell components
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2017
  5. watermark

    watermark Member

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    Browsing roleplaying rulebooks sometimes helps with creating your own magical systems.

    http://www.sjgames.com/gurps/books/thaumatology/

    Thaumatology for GURPS for example talks about magic in detail.
     
  6. GeorgiaMasonIII

    GeorgiaMasonIII Member

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    The key to magical systems is coming up with consistent rules for them. Many audiences get peeved at the "a wizard did it" trope, so reigning in your wizards is a good idea. How do you do this? Figure out the limits of your magic system. Can a magic user cast only so many spells per day, or only one powerful spell per day? Can only highly educated magicians perform powerful spells? Is magic hereditary, or can it be learned? Does it require magic words? Is it based on a religion or faith that has to do with magick/energy manipulation/supernatural spirits/etc.? Is it related to manipulation of the four (or other) elements?

    A couple of good examples for consistent, interesting, well-done magic systems can be found in Mogworld (a book about sentient MMORPG characters) by Yahtzee Croshaw and Sunshine (about vampires and magic handling) by Robin McKinley. I also would recommend reading N. K. Jemisin's The Broken Earth trilogy to learn from what she does with geography manipulation, which is referred to as "orogeny" (there's also magic in those books--which is referred to as different from orogeny--but it will be explored more in the third book of the trilogy, which, to my eternal chagrin, isn't out yet).
     
  7. ToBeInspired

    ToBeInspired Contributing Member

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    1) What is the source of magic? (Intrinsic or Esoteric?)
    2) What are the limitations of your magic?
    3) Who, or what, can do magic?
    4) Why can they do magic?
    5) What do you want your magic to accomplish?
    6) What is the "cost" of your magic?
     
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  8. Phil Mitchell

    Phil Mitchell Contributing Member

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    It's kind of dull if you stay within the rules of your magic system ALL the time. If you stay within it's limits. Where's the surprise then if the character only ever does what we know they can do?
     
  9. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Using an established skill in a surprising way to accomplish a surprising result is still impressive ;)

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ChekhovsSkill
     
  10. Phil Mitchell

    Phil Mitchell Contributing Member

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    Easy to say, beyond difficult to pull off. Finding a use of magic within established rules and limits that the audience can extrapolate from but yet still be surprising. But if we can't have miracles in fantasy, where can we have them? For example if it's established making a spell from a known list, that can only be done once a day due to fatigue or whatever, then the character's just going to blow his load and that's it. In every battle. Before, we're just waiting to see him do that or how he does it and after he's tired and useless, as no amount of willpower will change the fact that the magic system's rules state, after the spell, you too tired to cast another. So no matter what he's constrained after that point. If even in the climax of the story against his arch enemy, he can't dig deep and find the strength to cast ...TWO spells that battle because nerds will whine about TEH RULEZ then that's just sad.
     
  11. GeorgiaMasonIII

    GeorgiaMasonIII Member

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    One thing that I personally like to see in magic systems is finding loopholes in the known rules or sufficient previously untapped power to break the known rules. But in order to have a miracle, there have to be established rules to break. It's interesting when important characters can break the rules; less interesting if every magical character in a story can do literally whatever they want with magic.
     
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  12. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Personally, I've found that when I have to choose between either X or Y, the best answer is almost always "both" ;)

    In my fantasy world, the most important rule of magic is "Whatever rule of magic you come up with, there's going to be at least one or two mages in the world who are powerful enough to break it. You're just not one of them." In my fantasy world, rules of magic are delineated very clearly so that, when a villain does break one of those rules on the page, this turn of events can be played for all of the pants-browning, Lovecraftian drama that it deserves :twisted:

    That doesn't mean that I won't also try to show my characters coming up with clever loopholes in the rules that they are bound by :p Would the finale of Aliens have been as satisfying if, instead of Ripley
    • Being shown to be proficient in operating the power loader for the intended purpose of carrying equipment
    • Getting attacked with no military equipment readily available
    • Realizing that the power loader can be used as a weapon
    What if she had just happened to see a military mech suit lying around?

    That sounds like a good chance to show how creative the hero is at coming up with a way to win without magic (as opposed to just "the author wants The Hero To Win, so he's going to change what he's already said about his own story")

    And if he can't: that sounds like a fantastic opportunity to see how the next story develops as a result of the hero losing at the end of this one :cool:

    We need more stories like that. The point of any story is supposed to be that we need to know "what happens next," but as long as writers are expected to create nonsensical reasons to have their heroes win every single time, we will never see enough good stories about "the hero lost, what happens next!"
     
  13. Phil Mitchell

    Phil Mitchell Contributing Member

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    That would be undoing the drama of the story. That's pointless. What I'm talking about is not staying faithful to the magic system in order to take the drama to the highest levels.

    And what if the hero losing means evil wins everbody dies? As is often the case? If the magic system dictates the hero should die in one or two hits. Does one stay faithful to some rule or does a writer allow the hero to last long enough despite the magic system in order to have a chance to "get creative"?

    What would you do? Would you have your hero die in a single hit? If the magic system says so?
     
  14. Mikmaxs

    Mikmaxs Active Member

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    Set up some basic limitations, some basic rules, and then stick to them.
    I couldn't disagree more with Phil Mitchell here. If you break the rules in order to finish your story, then your audience is either going to be confused or annoyed.
    Just take the ending of Harry Potter for an example: The way Phil Mitchell would write it, Harry Potter would come into the final fight, reveal that you don't actually need wands in order to cast spells, and then cast Magic Missile in such a way that Voldemort doesn't know how to block. Fight over, the day is 'saved'.
    Instead, Harry Potter spends the whole book establishing the rules of magic wands, something that was already touched on in previous works. Harry loses his wand, so we have a good reason to explain why he can't use other wands as well. The power and history of the Elder Wand is explained, but the book is sneaky about it, so we don't *realize* that it had more significance than any of the other Deathly Hallows.
    Then, at the final Climax, Harry reveals his trump card: Because of actions taken earlier in the book, HE was the true master of the Elder Wand. Since Malfoy defeated Dumbledore, he became the master, and then Harry defeated Malfoy, making him the real master - The rules of the magic system are still maintained, but it comes as a surprise to the audience because we didn't see it coming. It fits, it makes sense, and it's one of the coolest moments in the series as we see how well JK Rowling was able to set up the climactic battle with an ace in Harry's sleeve.


    A twist that I'm planning in my own novel works a little differently, but should also help: In order to cast magic spells, you need to speak words in an ancient, runic language. Fairly standard stuff, as far as magical systems go. In the end of the story, though, one of my characters is going to be unable to speak, but still cast magic by using sign language - Because, see, the point was that you needed to communicate the idea, not that you needed to verbalize the words. It's a twist, because it subverts what the audience and characters assumed, but it still follows the rules presented in the story.
     
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  15. Phil Mitchell

    Phil Mitchell Contributing Member

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    Don't tell me how I would write it when you don't know what you're talking about.

    That would be undoing the drama of the story. That's pointless. What I'm talking about is not staying faithful to the magic system in order to take the drama to the highest levels. - Me, in the post just before yours which you didn't read.

    example: Superman's heat vision from point blank range, based on the rules should have killed Batman, a human.

    But because it's cooler and to give Batman a chance for the sake of DRAMA the rules are broken and the writer lets him dodge it twice. Why stick to rules that make your story less entertaining?

     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2017
  16. OJB

    OJB Active Member

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    I take a far more subtle approach to magic in my own work, but I want to answer the OP's question about applying in the writing; instead of making up words, or using Latin phrases, I use Literary Musical devices (Alliteration, Assonance, Consonance) to hint that magic is being performed. As far as the 'rules' go. The above posters are correct. Make a system and stick with it, even when it is inconvenient.
     
  17. Mikmaxs

    Mikmaxs Active Member

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    First off, you're misreading that scene: Batman has *clearly* been established in almost every canon (I'm not sure which version of Batman is in that story, so I'm using a general version) to be pretty much the best that a human can possibly be at all forms of combat. He knows Superman's attack patterns and how he fights. Batman has fought superhuman levels of enemies many, many times. He isn't dodging out of the way of the lasers in the same way that you might dodge a baseball that was thrown at you, he is dodging out of the way of the lasers before Superman fires, thus avoiding the shot. It is perfectly acceptable in canon, because Batman has been shown to use those kinds of skills in the past to avoid otherwise certain death, and so it makes sense. Your example is bad, and demonstrates that you don't understand Batman or Superman, not that the story breaks the rules.

    In a more general sense: You are advocating for characters to break the rules of a setting. Not bend them, not get lucky and push them a bit, but to break them. My theoretical example was one of exactly that: Harry Potter shows up at the end of the story, and uses an ability that was never before seen in the books. By your argument, that should be the better ending, because the audience wouldn't have been able to see it coming, and thus would be 'Surprised' by it. Shouldn't it be 'Cool' that Harry Potter disregarded the rules of the magic system and pushed the boundaries to do something new? Wouldn't it be dramatic for him to do something unexpected?
     
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  18. Phil Mitchell

    Phil Mitchell Contributing Member

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    Your Harry Potter example kills the drama in that it makes it a squash match with a deus ex machina. But you keep using the strawman even after I told you it's a strawman. That's not "by my argument". Batman gets tagged by bullets hence he wears armour. Dodging the much faster heat vision is breaking the rules.
     
  19. Mikmaxs

    Mikmaxs Active Member

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    It's not a straw man - Your exact words thus far include:
    "Where's the surprise then if the character only ever does what we know they can do?"
    "But if we can't have miracles in fantasy, where can we have them?"
    "What I'm talking about is not staying faithful to the magic system in order to take the drama to the highest levels."

    Then, you bring up a clip of Batman fighting Superman - A clip which according to your (inaccurate) description shouldn't be possible, because Batman shouldn't be able to survive fighting him.


    So, your argument is that:
    Characters doing impossible things is okay in a story, as long as it is dramatic.
    Characters doing something miraculous or unheard of is dramatic.
    If Harry Potter were to do something miraculous or unheard of, it wouldn't be dramatic.

    Why is it a Deus Ex Machina for Harry to use magic without a wand, but not for Batman to survive something that you claim should have killed him? When - According to your rules - Does it become 'Dramatic' for someone to break the rules, instead of being a deus ex machina? What's the line in the sand? Because you haven't made one.


    (Also, to talk on Batman briefly: I checked, and it's from the DC Animated Movie Universe, which I'm unfamiliar with, but I'll compare it to the DCAU: Batman dodges bullets, and rarely - if ever - actually gets shot. Because he dodges bullets so well. His armor is pretty light when not in the live-action movies, and is often barely more than thick cloth - He can't take heavy rounds. There's even an episode in the New Batman Adventures where Batman doesn't disarm a few thugs, and other characters fear for his life because he could in fact get shot. Find me a clip from the DCAU where bullets bounce off of Batman.)
    And, again - He's not dodging the heat vision, he's dodging Superman's aim. He also doesn't 'Dodge bullets' in the literal sense, he dodges the aim of the people firing.
     
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  20. Phil Mitchell

    Phil Mitchell Contributing Member

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    But y'know, miracles applied like you have a fucking IQ above 5.

    Meaning not having a character show up and insta winning with a deus ex machina. The very fact you think I someone 12 years your senior, writes like that after being told otherwise repeatedly, is a massive insult.

    If you apply no discretion to any writing advice than guess what, you're going to end up with a pile of shit. By your logic I should be happy having my MC show up to the final battle, win by randomly splitting into a trillion copies, and dogpiling the enemy. Except no, that's not a smart breaking of the rules, nor is it dramatic.

    How is it innacurate? He gets hit by bullets from regular humans yet can't be hit by Superman?


    Dramatic, cool, and done like you have a brain.

    I didn't say that. I said if we can't have miracles in fantasy where can we have them? And I said, I'm talking about breaking the rules in order to take drama to the highest levels. Then gave the example of if a character should die in one hit as by the rules, you can instead have the character survive longer for the sake of drama. That's the direct opposite to breaking the rules to end the fight early and unceremoniously with a deus ex machina. So no, simply doing something unheard of is NOT dramatic. Harry Potter showing up and killing Volemort with a laser from his dick is not drama.But sure is miraculous and unexpected.

    You can either debate in good faith and understand that writing advice is given under the caveat that the writer has judgment and discretion, or you can childishly try to poke holes in it. Even the simple advice show don't tell. One could be "that guy" and say Oh then you're saying I should never tell?" No, that's not what it's saying.


    And nor should I, because then what's the writer for? I may as well write the story for them? What's the line between implementing advice in a stupid way and in a good way? That's up to the writer.



    https://kunzelman.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/batmanscars.png[/QUOTE][/QUOTE]
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2017
  21. Mikmaxs

    Mikmaxs Active Member

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    [/QUOTE][/QUOTE]
    We're getting a little off topic here, so I'm just going to say a few things and call this discussion over, at least on my half:
    Firstly, that is a clip where Batman actually takes a bullet because his armor *doesn't* protect him from getting shot, which is the opposite of what I asked for. It's also not from the DCAU, but that's kind of aside the point. He dodges gunfire, he doesn't take shots and ignore them. It might be unlikely that he is able to dodge laser fire, but it's not agains the rules of the universe, not by a long shot.


    I'm unsure what your age nor mine has to do with anything. You are giving bad advice, the result of which would be what I am describing. I am pointing out that your advice is bad, by giving an example which is the end result of what you are recommending. Mentioning your age in order to defend your point is the very definition of an 'Ad Hominem' attack.


    And, finally, saying that your advice works when the author shows discretion is still not true, because your advice is bad regardless of scale. I used a fairly major example because it's easier to highlight a point, but it works in minor ways, too: If a character does anything that directly contradicts the rules of the universe, in order to solve a problem, that is bad storytelling. It doesn't matter how minor it is, it's still a Deus Ex Machina. If, for example, Harry Potter had just become the master of the Elder Wand because he's such a nice guy, it wouldn't be as bad as what I suggested earlier, but it would still be a problem. If Batman actually took a laser and just didn't die, that would be a problem. If you spend your whole story explaining a rule, and then you break that rule, you're going to be doing it poorly. Period.
     
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  22. Phil Mitchell

    Phil Mitchell Contributing Member

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    I don't care about what you asked for. You claimed that Batman rarely gets shot if ever. The evidence I presented shows that's not true.


    Assuming total incompetence in a writer who has more experience than you is disrespect. That's what you've built your argument around. The idea that because breaking of the rules can be applied indiscriminately and badly, that it's bad advice. I can tell you're a young writer in your black and white thinking, with strict, unthinking adherence to "the rules" . In the right context, any magic system can be broken to good effect. In my own story:

    A far stronger and more durable opponent is OHKO'ed by using elemental weakness, allowing the plot to move forward.
    A currently exhausted and weaker opponent is not OHKO'ed using the same tactic, but barely hangs on through willpower and fighting for alot more (a character who explicitly doesn't believe in limitations). This leads to intense drama and emotion, as well as amazing visual spectacle.

    By the rules the weaker opponent should fall even easier if not die. But that leads to an unceremonious abrupt ending where rocks fall everybody dies. Doesn't matter about the character's theme, by the rules, that character should be screwed. But better writing? I think not. The reader gets lost in the emotion and the spectacle of the moment, and would have to rip their attention away to say *pinches nose* Well technically that character shouldn't survive because the rules are established twenty nine pages ago means that you can't withstand blah blah blah blah."

    That's a nerd who needs to go outside.



    Such black and white thinking is a sign of youth and inexperience. Sometimes storytelling works on poetic and emotional levels instead strict logic.


    Deus ex machina isn't universally bad. When you use it to solve the entire problem it's cheap. If it's used as a stepping stone towards the real resolution underneath layers of spectacle and emotion and entertainment, then it's a good way to keep the plot moving at pace. You're talking about sacrificing the entertainment of the masses in order to please the guy who's going to go off and analyze it for holes and whine on the internet that the precious magic system wasn't perfectly consistent.

    You seem to have a hard time if the rules and lines are explicitly spelled out for you.
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2017
  23. PilotMobius

    PilotMobius Member

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    Magic is just alternate physical laws that govern your fictional universe. If a character seemingly breaks their universe's physical laws, you better be ready to explain how they did it.
     
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  24. Phil Mitchell

    Phil Mitchell Contributing Member

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    Done well, leaving things unexplained encourages fan participation, mystery and theories.
    Would the Dark Knight Rises have been any better if they'd showed how Bruce Wayne saved himself from a nuclear blast with only seconds on the clock? How about how he got back to Gotham from that prison? Or explaining how no one's recognising him in Paris? Or how Alfred seemingly knew he was alive and wasn't shocked at seeing him again. Stopping the plot to explain everything is often like stopping poetry or (modern) fairytale to explain away any imagery that doesn't follow strict logical progression. It's stopping the flow in order to cover the nitpicky fridge logic people may come up with later on.

    When you have a magic system and strictly follow it, or don't but you explain everything, magic loses it's sense of wonder.
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2017
  25. PilotMobius

    PilotMobius Member

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    In that case, it's just a matter of differing opinions on fiction. I was always a fan of hard sci-fi in which they explained everything. I will literally stop to question things if inconsistencies in the set rules manage to break my immersion.
     
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