Author Topic: Magic Systems  (Read 9295 times)

Argent

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Magic Systems
« on: November 05, 2009, 09:00:57 AM »
Brandon Sanderson is, I think by popular opinion, well-known for his unique and real magic systems.  Feel free to refer to his Sanderson's First Law essay about his opinion on what makes a magic system believable and interesting. I won't summarize it, as I suspect many of us have already read the article. I will, however, quote the Law:
Quote from: Sanderson's First Law of Magics
: An author's ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.

With all this in mind, and the fact that some of the users in this forum are probably young and aspiring authors, I thought I'd create a game of some sort. Well, not exactly a "game", but a fun and productive activity, which also happens to be a helpful mind exercise, I think. A place to create magic.

Before I go any further, I want to explicitly state that I have no intentions to ask anyone to reveal their writing secrets. If you think you have a magic system so good it will get your novel/short story published, and you don't want to share it - that's great! But if you want to just practice and write some interesting stuff subject to critique from other readers and possibly writers, I think this will be a very interesting place for you to be in.

So here is the deal. You will create a model for a magic system and post it here. It doesn't matter of it's a rough draft, or a system finished to its smallest of details. Post something. Or if you have nothing (like me at the moment, although I am working on an idea), take a look at what others have posted and discuss it with them. Provide feedback, help the rest of the users improve. Let's see if we can start a decent creative process going.

Now, as I said, I have nothing to offer. For now. So I will leave the topic as it is, and see where things are going. Hopefully I will be able to supply my own sample, and we can start from there if things are not getting anywhere. Only time will tell what will happen.

Let magic reign!
Power doesn't always have to corrupt. In many ways, it can change a man for the better.

Elwynn

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Re: Magic Systems
« Reply #1 on: November 06, 2009, 06:46:31 AM »
Ok, I've got one I'll share. Came up with it a while back, and it's partly inspired by the taint from wot. Put it aside because, quite frankly I suck at writing political intrigue so far.

The basic idea was power in exchange for going crazy (losing yourself actaully). What I loved about it was the distorted culture. There are no heroes or legends in their world. Anyone who achieved any large scale influence, with either good or bad intentions, ended up detroying the kingdoms they created or killing everyone they came across until armies were raised to bring them down. Scarring their name forever.

I won't bore you with the slowly emerging history, but everyone of a certain bloodline has a Stranger. They are always there, talk to you, and of course are only seen and heard by you. The only way for someone to know you have one is if you slip or are seen wielding power. And anyone will kill you on site for what you are. They are of course pure evil. :)  Talking about doing horrible things, telling you to kill or maim. Imagine Zane on acid.

To get power, different kinds of power for different Strangers, all you have to do is accept them. Then, instead of being an everpresent ghost haunting you they infuse you with power. Everytime you accept them, you lose a little of yourself to them, until they are running the show and you watch from behind the scenes. They crave to be in control and will do their best to get you to accept power. They whisper in your ear about how they can help handle one situation or another, the power they can grant you. And everytime you accept it becomes harder to reject letting them in. They are completely insane, switching moods and how they treat you, to try and gain control depending on how far gone you are.

The jist was that one of the protags figured out how to bottle it all up. To lock away giving over until he's finished what he needs to do. Then he could kill himself before his stranger wrecks everything he does. He becomes the first hero stories are told about in the future. Two povs are opposing rulers trying to deal with their strangers while hiding it from everyone else, had some pretty good scenes with them.
So...critique, love, hate, find faults...I could use them all. It's midnight and I'm tired. Already deleted this once on accident by spell checking, allowing popups, then BAM...it was all gone. This was all I could push out as fast as possible. Good night.

Plasman

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Re: Magic Systems
« Reply #2 on: November 06, 2009, 09:14:15 AM »
One concept that i came up with that i think could be really interesting is consciously controlling the unconscious functions of your body.  I think of it like breathing. you don't have to constantly think breathe in, breathe out for it to happen, but if u want u can take control of your breath. what if a person could do the same thing with other bodily functions? growing skin perhaps. people could consciously develop a kind of "callous armor", create disguises, and several other things.

The natural progression of this idea in my mind then was, what happens if these normally unconscious functions become completely conscious. how much time would a person have to spend each day consciously regrowing new skin? what would happen if they ever got injured or cut? in this case, the "magic" could possibly move from being considered an unusual power to a plague, especially if it is genetic.

There are definately some interesting social consequences that could arise from this.  If this power was significant enough for those who had it to gain power over those who don't, what happens when the power changes?

so far i've only thought about this in terms of growing skin, but there are plenty of other bodily functions that would be cool to take control of. take ur pick.
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clarissavandell

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Re: Magic Systems
« Reply #3 on: November 06, 2009, 04:29:40 PM »
For the above idea, what about digestion?  They would have to account for not only eating nutrients, but breaking them down as well. 

sortitus

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Re: Magic Systems
« Reply #4 on: November 06, 2009, 06:11:05 PM »
I don't have many original magic systems, but in trying to find an appropriate cost to balance out an overpowered magic in my books I have come up with a few interesting costs.

  • Atomically-powered magic. Very much an idea that has been done, just followed to an extreme. Many existing magics have material costs, and the only thing that makes this material cost so interesting is the tiny amount of matter needed to do anything. If your characters can turn any matter into pure energy, their power is so insanely huge that I have no idea what scale they'd be playing on. Breaking down their own shirt would yield enough power to crack our world in half. Depending on what the magic you're powering does, that is. If you're powering the magic of good smooches, the world-destroying potential goes down a bit.
  • Value-powered magic. I'm going to admit the sources for this idea up front: Fullmetal Alchemist, Writing Excuses' podcast "Costs and Ramifications of Magic", and Harry Potter (Goblet of Fire task #2). Of course, now that I think about it, FMA contains this kind of exchange without going to other sources, but I must detail what the magic is or you're going to be lost. You exchange the things and people you value (and have some sort of ownership of) for power to do things. You could trade your dog's life for certain magical feats. Or you could trade your house. Or your money. Of your family. Or your arm (thanks, Alphonse). Or your memories (that's you again, Alphonse). Or your life (again, Alphonse, thank you). This works with other concepts other than attachment as well. You could have the value determined by subjective or objective beauty. Or by a sum total of how much value is placed on something by everyone and everything. Your entire country loves the princess? Kidnap and use her as power to fuel your undead army/build a castle of your own/grow a nice garden/raise your family from the dead/turn back time. Whatever your magic does. :P

"But uncle sorty," you say, "you haven't given us anything truly ground-breaking, and you said interesting costs." That I did. More insane ideas will be given starting now.

  • Weight-powered magic. You use up all of your magic and you float up where can't nobody help you. Of course, if we're following the laws of physics at all, you'd probably end up a paste on the surface of the earth instead. Used in mild quantities, you'd probably just end up really short. Also interesting is the possibility of sucking the weight out of objects around you a'la Warbreaker with color.
  • Sense-powered magic. Want to stop that sword with your bare hands? You're going to be numb for a while. Want to burn a village to the ground? Yeah, you'll be blind for weeks. Want to save that kid's life? Pick your least favorite sensory organ(s) and see how long you'll be stuck without. Bonus points for making other objects indetectable by that sense instead of you losing it. That rock will never taste the same again. Also, you have to watch out for the people that don't make any sound. Scentless boots are a luxury good. Swords that can't be seen or felt are kinda hard to locate, but if you grab at the hilt of your favorite sword and can't feel or see anything but can't close your hand either, you're going to be a rich person.
  • Excrement-powered magic. Hey! Don't look at me like that! I know it's immature to bring this kind of crap into serious discussions like magic, but that's a piss-poor excuse to get that look on your face. That may have been in bad taste. I like this idea for the amount of absolutely awful times this creates for characters. Mages don't live in towers because they want to act all mysterious. The townsfolk don't stay away from them in fear. They just reek. I mean, when the mages are all dudes lugging bags of human waste around with them... Tipping the hat to Warbreaker again, a character could use his opponent's crap as a surprise tactic if the enemy doesn't know they're magicians. Anyway, bonus points if the crap they use has to be their own. Man, who said that there are no advantages to gluttony?! Besides, if you're constantly using magic and you never use too much, you can just go on what you're naturally carrying around with you IYKWIM. Solves two problems in one go. You don't stink, and you don't have to go ever again. Bam. Also, the MC going to "meditate in solitude for a few days before the battle" becomes a bit... awkward in this situation.
  • Magic-powered magic. Take your favorite magic system that you didn't come up with. Whenever you use magic, you're adversely affected by that kind of magic. Time magic? If you're doing cantrips, you might be moved a few seconds in time. Need to pull a doozie? You may find yourself a few centuries before or after your own time. Don't try to cast again to go back. You could end up further away. Or you could end up just losing a year of your own life. Or you could become a baby. Or you could end up moving crazy-fast or slow. Bonus points: make it totally random so that even cantrips can take your personal time line so far off your lifetime that you cease to exist. What's that? You think you'd prefer elemental magic? Okay, air magic it is. Whoops. You cast a spell and now you have to try to deal with a bloody tornado. I don't care if it's a hundred miles away, people are still going to be in a tiff about you casting spells willy-nilly.
If this power was significant enough for those who had it to gain power over those who don't, what happens when the power changes?
How and why would the power change? The why is less important in answering your question, so let me refine mine: In what way would the power change? Are you talking like Elantris, where the power just suddenly wasn't working correctly?
« Last Edit: November 06, 2009, 06:13:35 PM by sortitus »
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Patriotic Kaz

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Re: Magic Systems
« Reply #5 on: November 06, 2009, 06:48:01 PM »
your shadow is hungry so you feed it other peoples shadows... they must be dieing or recently dead for you to do this as it steals part of their soul, as your shadow feeds it grows.... very slowly. When you shadow is big enough it is more or less a pocket of a universe in which you define the laws of physics... fights of overlapping shadows create interesting possibilities
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BloodlessVictory

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Re: Magic Systems
« Reply #6 on: November 07, 2009, 05:36:39 AM »
Dirt-fueled magic.

What happens after hundreds of years of being able to do almost anything you want just by bringing a wizard a shovelful of dirt from your backyard and paying a fee for his time?  Huge strip mines miles deep/wide, economic exchanges based on the differences in amount of magical energy released by burning different mixes of elements in the soil... but eventually you get to deal with scarcity and environmental issues: is it cost effective to use magic to transport the dirt great distances to use it?  And what happens when your planet begins to display symptoms of losing mass?  Deforestation, lack of land usable for farming, and ultimately diminishing gravity...

lethalfalcon

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Re: Magic Systems
« Reply #7 on: November 07, 2009, 09:53:48 AM »
Forgive me if this sounds a little childish, but I was much younger when I came up with this one, and I really liked playing LOOM (old LucasArts game).

The magic system is based on an alphabet (probably not English, but I'll use it to illustrate). Your tool, be it staff, wand, sword, house, whatever, would be divided up into the letters A-Z. At first, you would only have access to a few letters, say A-E, but over time you would learn new letters and expand your 'vocabulary'. Spells would consist of a variable length of letters depending on complexity, number of targets, power of spells. More difficult and dangerous spells would contain higher letters, with possible earth-changing spells being up in the X-Z range. So far, pretty simple.

What makes it more interesting to me is that the letters are transferable, to a certain extent. For instance, if you had a staff with A-E, and you found another implement with F-I on it, you could graft them onto your existing staff and get instant access to those letters (although you still may not know any spellwords for those letters). Now, a given person may have really powerful letters, and weaker ones, based on how often they were used for spells (it could even be that certain letters were reserved for certain categories of spells—healing uses primarily vowels, attack magic uses hard consonants, defense uses word pairs like th and sm, etc.). So, you might find an old wizard's staff and discover that his K, M, and P were really strong, but most of his other letters were mediocre at best.

Building on that concept, there would come a point where a letter would be reclassified to artifact status. This being, it's really freakin' powerful. Any spells created with that implement using an artifact letter would have vastly superior capabilities. Trying to build an implement with as many artifact letters as possible has resulted in numerous wizard wars over time, with many murders to steal others' letters. There are lots of potential story arcs that I can think of with this, with the simplest being that a dire need has arisen for a really powerful complex spell (say, using Z), and the hero needs to find an artifact Z to complete the spell properly, even though his staff isn't even to M yet. He has to not only complete his staff to Y (in order to attach the artifact Z), AND find a letter Z powerful enough to use (which would be found only on ancient wizards or on implements that have been passed down through many generations), but the rest of the letters need to be powerful enough to complete the spellword, which he needs to learn as well.

Anyone want to drag this one into the dirt? I like criticism.
I don't have good days. I have great days, where I'm a magician ridding the world of all evil, or at least everything I don't like. And then I wake up, and it's back to work for me.

mtlhddoc2

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Re: Magic Systems
« Reply #8 on: November 07, 2009, 11:33:11 PM »
Im no writer, but I was thinking along the lines of calorie based magic. IE: how much you weigh determines the degree of difficulty of the spell.

For example, a 200 pound man could not cast a spell that used up his 200 pounds or he would die.

The fatter you are, the bigger the spell you can cast, but you lose the weight and have to gain it back.

Argent

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Re: Magic Systems
« Reply #9 on: November 08, 2009, 02:58:17 AM »
I am really happy how the thread is going :)
These days are a little busy for me, so I can't spend the time I want to comment on the posts, but I'll get to theme eventually. :)
Power doesn't always have to corrupt. In many ways, it can change a man for the better.

flyleaffan

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Re: Magic Systems
« Reply #10 on: November 08, 2009, 03:30:10 AM »
One that I've always liked is based on using one's weakness as strength. So my protagonist could be blind, but in using the power would be able to see. But what i was thinking is that the power would swap physical attributes that are weaknesses to the magicians. So a blind person would temporarily blind someone else, while being able to see. As they mature in their understanding of the magic system, they would learn to find weaknesses that are not as obvious, but that would still illicit a victorious outcome. For example, a 90-pound girl could assimilate the strength of her muscle-builder opponent to be able to take him down. Or shyness, intelligence, attitudes, or feelings could be done the same way. The cost of doing so would be fatigue, depending on how long of a duration it was used, the distance it was done, and the difficulty of switching the attributes (not sure how I would rate things yet)

That's one I've kinda been working out for a few years, but I think it's pretty cool.

lethalfalcon

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Re: Magic Systems
« Reply #11 on: November 08, 2009, 03:59:21 AM »
For the one above, from what I understand, you give your weakness to another in order to "lose" it for awhile.

It would be interesting to figure out what happens when you give your weakness to another wizard. At that point, now they have the weakness, so they can pass it back to you. Are two mages dueling each other at an eternal stalemate because of this? I'm assuming that they are the only two within reasonable distance to pass their weaknesses to. A duel in a city would be almost comical, as people are dropping like flies while the wizards are becoming all-powerful in the wake of their shedding weaknesses.

The only real problem I can see is how you classify a "weakness". To a 90 pound girl, her weight is a weakness against a 200 pound body builder in the sense of raw power. But try to fit that 200 pound man through a vent duct and he'll get stuck, where the 90 pound girl scoots through with no problem. How would you deal with such a situation?
I don't have good days. I have great days, where I'm a magician ridding the world of all evil, or at least everything I don't like. And then I wake up, and it's back to work for me.

Handsome Bob

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Re: Magic Systems
« Reply #12 on: November 08, 2009, 06:51:00 PM »
I always thought that a music based magic would be neat, that way no one is "more powerful" just more adept.

mtlhddoc2

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Re: Magic Systems
« Reply #13 on: November 09, 2009, 02:26:26 AM »
Bob, wasn't Donaldson's Covenant series based on musical magic?

Ari54

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Re: Magic Systems
« Reply #14 on: November 09, 2009, 02:29:36 AM »
I'll share one of the magic systems I'm working on in Dreamspace. :)

The basic rules are relatively simple: It's the ability to move and convert different types of energy at the cost of a little wastage- for instance using the wind to move objects around, using a candle to burn things, etc... There's a lot more detail to it than that, such as how the magic was made, (I have human-made magic in this universe) and some extra abilities that have personal costs to the Idamancer, but that's the basics of it. Amusingly, Idamancers also sense magic as music in a similar way to what you've been talking about- to me the musical sense was the familiar idea, and the physics-based energy transmission the strange one.

edit: On weaknesses/costs of magic: Almost any cost can be an advantage in the right circumstances, and you'll notice that Brandon uses this sometimes in his magic systems- eg. giving away Breath as a distraction in Warbreaker. An Allomancer could potentially get rid of incriminating metal items using the "cost" of their magic, too. The trick is coming up with a cost that provides an advantage only in very specific circumstances, and structuring your setting realistically so that the fuel for magic becomes appropriately precious that it stays a disadvantage.
« Last Edit: November 09, 2009, 02:32:55 AM by Ari54 »