According to Brandon Sanderson, magic must have rules. Not all writers agree with this theory, however. That’s the fun in writing fantasy. The “rules” don’t apply to every story. There are plenty of stories where no rules apply to magic. It is mysterious and unexplainable. But in other stories, there are hard set rules and consequences for using magic.
This is my journey into creating my world and its magical system.
I first asked the question- who has magic? And why? I see magic as just another form of science that certain people have the ability to learn. In my world, the “immortal” races are the ones who are able to cultivate magical crafts. Magic comes from pleasing the elements. For example, a soil steward uses the magic of the earth to grow a garden that sustains the entire city. Others can ask the wind to lend its breath in creating a storm. The reason only the immortal races are able to cultivate magic is because of the length of time it takes to master the concentration to telepathically communicate with the spirits. There is also technique to learn and in some cases, spells.
Because not everyone has access to magic, an underground slave trade develops, selling magically talented people. Some people fear magic, thinking it is an unfair advantage. The Underlings have a type of magic, and they are set on making the whole world their empire. Other magically talented people value knowledge and art above all else. So it is interesting to see how the access to magic affects their culture and how they are seen by the untalented.
But lets say you decide that you’d like to limit this more. You might give a chosen few the ability to use magic. Or maybe they are mutant-like beings, and no one else has this ability. The world will respond to magic in some way, whether its to fear it, deny it, or praise it.
Next, I asked myself, how does someone access this magic? Do the spirits prefer the poetry of spells? Or are the spirits pleased by music? Does magic require a sacrifice of something living? In my world, there are a few ways to access magic. One way is by living a life that intrigues the spirits by practicing painting, music, or spidersilk spinning. A practicer of the magical arts may gain the spirits of the air’s attention by playing a pipe. This will result in the piper being able to briefly control the wind. Others use sacrifice to maintain the favor of the elements.
Maybe in your world, you choose to have spells use special ingredients. Maybe those ingredients are rare. Would this make magic only something the rich can practice? What’s stopping the magically talented ones from taking over the world? Are there other groups of magically talented who balance them out?
This brought me to the question, what does magic cost the user? The answer to this question came in many forms. For Soil magic, it costed attention. Soil requires devotion and time before any healing herbs can grow. For Blood magic, it costed sacrificial blood to get the spirits’ attention. Air magic often costs a song, but air has favorites and will aid someone it likes. Water magic requires protection to keep it pure.
As you can see, this cost can be something physical like mana reduction, or it can be abstract like knowledge. Maybe it costs precious resources or secret ingredients.
Then I ask myself, what can magic accomplish, and what are its limits? In my world, magic can be used for anything from light and heat to transportation and entertainment. People can summon the dust of a star in the form of a ‘light orb’ to brighten a dark space and give it warmth. The drawback is a person needs several orbs in order to light or heat a room. Underlings use the powers of lava to create steam to propel their train called the Worm. The limit is that it has to be constantly maintained by a group of workers who fuel the lava and keep it hot. Certain groups have healers, their limit is their prior knowledge and the herbs they have access to.
These rules may never see the page, but I find them useful in constructing magical systems. Having limits helps prevent having overpowered characters. In my opinion those types of characters who have limitless powers are boring.
Some blogs I found: