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Leicester - Magic Systems

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Joined: 14 Aug 2005
Posts: 205
Location: United Kingdom

PostPosted: Sat Mar 24, 2007 10:15 am    Post subject: Leicester - Magic Systems Reply with quote

James described the controls he puts on a magic system. The controls are important as the system has to be credible. If you use magic as an easy get out of trouble tool then the reader loses belief in it.

To be credible a magic system has to have:
What the magician needs to do to make the magic work
Where the magic comes from, elements, nature, mana field
What stops the magicians from become all powerful. Stamina, flaws (including risk of death), side affects.

With a magical world you have to think carefully about how the people of the world see magic and treat magicians. You also have to think about how magic affects the world.
Member and President of the Will Begman Appreciation Society.
Fantasycon 2005 Walsall Attendee
Fantasycon 2006-2009 Nottingham Attendee
Fantasycon 2010 Nottingham (stopped over for lunch)
Fantasycon 2011 Brighton (Is that in France?)
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Joined: 07 Mar 2005
Posts: 1081
Location: Easington, UK

PostPosted: Mon Mar 26, 2007 10:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Spot on. James' notion that a magic system works best in a book if it seems credible is spot on. We've all read books, and not necessarily bad ones, where the wizards/mages etc could almost do what they wished, and in comparison I find James' way of developing a magic system to be far more.... well.... credible, as was said.

One point which James made which I agreed with was about limits and boundaries. If the magic users are too powerful and can do whatever they want, then barring some extremely inventive narrative and other factors, they will inevitably rule the land/world etc. It makes sense. Too much power will make them far too akin to Gods. Potentially.

To get around it, and thinking about it logically this does make sense (and yes, I know applying logic to magic is a bit of a paradox but, hey, it works for me), you will have to apply limits and boundaries. Not necessarily on the magic - after all, this is magic we're talking about here - but limits on the caster. To use James' work as an example, use of magic exacts a price: it tires the mages in the Raven books by sapping their stamina, it 'uses up' the energy within the bodies of the Ascendants and effectively ages them until they're rested. By putting limits such as or similar to these, the magic users, despite being powerful, are flawed. It gives them a weakness. So, if they're the enemy, it's something for the good guys to exploit; if they're the good guys, it's a problem for them to figure a way around. Either way, it adds an extra dimension.

The roots was an interesting one and this is where you can be quite inventive. If you're creating a world, effectively, you can have your magic come from anywhere you like but it's nice to give the reader an idea of where it is. Again, to use James' work as an example, the Raven books used an additional element - 'Mana' - which the mages (and only the mages) could see, channel and shape into what was needed (again, depending on the stamina, the proficiency of the mage and the complexity of the spell); the Ascendants' power was based in the elements, which they drew upon and amplified through their bodies. So, here you've an additional element as a source as well as the elements themselves. There are loads of other ways of doing it and thinking about it. Does the caster have this pwoer within them? Or is it invoked from elsewhere? Where? Another dimension? A item of power? Runes? You can have a lot of fun making yourself an effective and credible system.

But, once you do, you need rules. What makes a proficient user of your magic? How do they cast a spell? Command words? Simply willing something to happen? Drawing symbols? Reciting spells? Hand gestures? Music? Drugs? Dances? Rites? What props do they need, if any? Wands? Blood? Black cockerils? Voodoo dolls? Combinations of all? How long does it take to cast? Is a simple spell an instant thing with a huge, complex spell taking hours? Days? Can certain acts only be performed by a group of people? Can certain spells only be cast individually? Is your magic-user limited only to what others have discovered before, as in the Raven books? Can new spells be created, as in Septern? Or is the imagination and the tools at hand the only limitation?

Loads of questions, each elading to more... but, get most answered and you'll have a nice little system which you can stick to quite happily and which avoids your relying suddenly upon deus ex machina.
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