When developing magic for a setting, I personally live by the motto of draft, redraft. I like to get it done early, because how the magic of your world works will give you a lot of inspiration for later steps in building fantasy settings . A system like magic can impact your story or campaign in a lot of ways you may not even think about, so it’s good to get someone else to review your system too
I will write more about hard and soft magic systems in another post, but today I have a short questionnaire. This is something I put together to keep me from losing my mind every time I made a new magic system.
There is a lot to take into account when building magic. This series of questions are the ones I ask myself when it is time to create a magic system
What do you want from your magic system?
When you start out, keep in mind what you want from your magic. Do you want it to be scientific (Brandon Sanderson) or mysterious (Tolkein)?
Is your magic very rare or common? Do lots of people use it, or only great heroes and villains? (i.e.: Game of Thrones vs Harry Potter)
What is the power source of the magic? (i.e.: Background radiation, the soul, blood, the gods, etc)
How do people become magic users? Is it a trait they are born with, or can anyone learn it with enough effort? If its something its born with, is it genetic or random?
If its genetic, how does that affect society? (Certain families are going to be magically talented and therefore have an edge. Maybe magical families intermarry to keep it in the family?)
If it is something you can learn, how hard is it to learn? Will it take your whole life or just a few years? How is it learnt? (i.e: Hogwarts, apprenticeships, etc)
If it takes your whole life, why do people learn it (Is there good pay for wizards)?
What should your magic system feel like?
How is magic cast? (Wands, magic words, glyphs etc) and is there a particular reason for that type of casting being used (is it a law of magic, or is it just tradition and you could actually do it other ways?)
Can you lose your magic? If so, how and why? (A punishment, overuse, a finite limit to how much magic you can do in your life?) Can magic be stolen?
What are the downsides to magic (shortened lifespan, progressive insanity, needing to eat lots, being physically frail etc?) What stops your magicians being overpowered (or are they? That’s fine if that fits your world, but think about the repercussions of super powerful people with varying moralities running around)
How powerful are spells and what are they best at? Is your magic more suited to scholars in libraries, or people flinging fireballs on the battlefield? Are their specialties that people must choose to focus upon in order to master?
How does healing magic work? Can you fix broken bones, cure diseases, raise the dead etc? If so, are there costs for these things or another reason why there isn’t out of control population growth? (presuming you want a classic medieval fantasy setting, as population growth can work in your favour for other settings!)
How do magical items work – can you enchant things, and if so how difficult is it and how powerful are the results? (Or are the only magical items ancient artifacts made with lost knowledge?)
Is there alchemy and potion making and how does your magic system allow that?
How has magic effected technology? (For example, if your magicians can create portals to other countries, maybe your people never developed cargo ships and just send everything by magic portal?)
How does it change war? (Castles aren’t much use if a mage can breach your wall with a word. Cavalry charges could be stopped by a shield, and infantry decimated with a fireball. How do armies cope?)
How does society view mages?
How do normal people treat those with magic? (Is there discrimination, superstition, a class system etc?)
What do the governments of your world think of people with magic? (Are they themselves full of magical people, do they try to control them, or suppress them?)
Can all your species perform magic, or are some better or worse at it? Is there a lore reason why? (favour of the gods, no souls, etc)
The next step for your magic system
Check out some of my other articles on creating magic systems for the next step to take when making your own magic system.
Header image: The Witch (Night Piece) by Jan van de Velde, c1626. Public domain.