Daily Archives: Monday, July 23, 2012

"This is an Emergency Test of Your Magic System" by Josh Vogt - An image from MISTBORN: BIRTHRIGHT
Creating a new magic system isn’t all that hard. Do I hear a few dissenters in the audience? For the sake of the next exercise, let’s assume I do. Time to play a quick round of Magic Mad-libs!

Fill in the blanks:
“In a(n) adjective world populated by noun, practitioners known as made-up-word can call upon energy source to fuel a form of noun magic.”

What’d you come up with? In a forested world populated by squirrels, practitioners known as fuzzummoners can call upon mystical oak trees to fuel a form of acorn magic? Me too! Weird.

Once a basic concept is pinned down, it’s still not difficult to flesh out the system. There are so many types of magic systems swarming the shelves these days, they’ve started to lump into familiar categories. Here are a few common approaches:

  • Beakers full of fairy dust – This is magic as science. The fuzzummoners exist within a universe that has an extra level or two of physics, with established rules that govern their acorn spell-casting. (Think pretty much any book by Brandon Sanderson.) Or the fuzzummoners have stumbled across mysterious, ancient—possibly alien—doohickeys that are so far beyond their comprehension it might as well be magic.
  • The mythology wood-chipper – Fuzzummoners are just one supernatural faction alongside Norse gods, dragons, trolls, vampires, and whatever else gets thrown into the mix for variety’s sake. (Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series is a great example.) Bit of a magical free-for-all where anything goes (Also look at T.A. Pratt’s Marla Mason series).
  • Is that a D20 in your pocket? –The fuzzummoners magic originates from a roleplaying world with game mechanics complicated enough to boggle Jeopardy’s Watson. Whether a tabletop or video game, the gameplay came first, the stories came later. (Look to the Pathfinders Tales series as a current example, plus plenty of other media tie-ins.)

If creating the magic system isn’t hard, what’s the difficult part then? Read More »