A considerable part of most if not all fantasy stories and science fantasy is magic. Whichever the form it takes, magic is part of the fabric of reality of the world where the story takes place. And usually magic takes the forms of ‘systems’, depending on how the author feels or believes that magic should work in their universe. Magic can be subtle like in Tolkien’s Middle Earth & Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire or can be pretty much weaponized like in Slayers or Final Fantasy. Some authors like Terry Pratchett went about equating magic with nuclear physics (which in my mind makes perfect sense, you will see why).
The most common form of magic used as well for role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons is the Vancian System, created by Jack Vance, author of the Dying Earth novels. Other systems are based on the equivalent exchange like in Full Metal Alchemist, drawing mana from the world (a few of the Final Fantasy games). TV Tropes has a decent summary of such systems here & here (the usual warning about getting stuck into endless hours of web surfing at TV Tropes apply).
Now, for my tow main universes where magic is part of the setting, I created two different systems, one more detailed than the other, given the nature of the stories, but more or less coming from the same ideas. I will start with the easiest one (and the one it has already seen the light, published in Tales of Wonder *shameless plug on my own website*).
The Magic in Kaana
Full disclaimer: Kaana as such is the proposed first chapter of a full-length novel I have in mind. Thus this system is liable to evolve a bit more. This part of the post has some spoilers for the story.
Kaana is a science fantasy story taking place in the really distant future (close to the entropic death of the universe) in what is basically a supermassive Dyson sphere where the last survivors of the life in the universe struggle to find a way to escape inevitable doom. Part of the world includes a group of beings named the ‘worldformers’ of which main characters Kaana and Quetz form a part. They are the magic users of the setting, using their magic to coax dead land into fertile one to grow food. Their magic could be described as ‘quantum alchemic elemental manipulation’ and of both systems described here, is the ‘least’ magical.
How does it work? Well, a worldformer has, since birth, special grafts inside their bodies that channel what they call ‘prana’: an elementary energy deep seated within the quantum realm and that mystics on Lost Earth called the blood of the universe. It’s something akin to using zero point energy or the vibration coming from quantum strings as the power source. Once they draw enough prana from the world around, they can order the matter at the quantum level to take any form or shape they wish, from dust to lava or from moisture to ice. Now to do so, the worldformer not only needs energy but a clear concept in their mind to order the matter around. Some of the grafts are embedded in their neurological system and act as processors to handle the translation from concept to transmutation. For simpler things, the process is tiring but easy. For bigger things, the process is more energy consuming and the calculations more complicated.
A worldformer can basically reshape the world around as they wish, providing they have the training and the endurance to do so. Since they are not creating something from nothing, but actually taking existent matter and transmuting it into something, there is no reality backlash nor paradoxes. Of course changing an element into another require a lot of prana.
The holy grail for worldformers has been the creation of auto sustainable energy like that of a star (which os part of the plot of the story, seriously, go and read it). It not only needs more prana than usual since it involves manipulating gravity as well but a higher computational power and more important, the key concept. This is where guardians like Aditi enter the picture: when they merge with a worldformer of the right kind, they can show the concept, make the calculations and draw massive amounts of prana and help the worldformer to recreate a singularity in miniature. However, the merging process and the actual transmutation is really painful and many have died trying it.
Pretty straighforward uh?
The Magic on Tempest Blades
“Are you allergic to peanuts?” Alex asked.
“No silly. To magick energy,” Sam replied laughing.
This si the dialogue that kickstarts an explanation of how magic or magick with a ‘k’ is called in the Tempest Blades universe works. Of both systems this is the one I have been working the longer, probably since my first story in my teenagehood and is influenced by an old book on the history of magic that draws a lot from the treaties of Eliphas Levi, and ‘A Brief Story of Time’ by Stephen Hawking, both of which I read when I was a kid (have I told you that my reading choices during my childhood weren’t very common?).
Magick works like this: there is a fifth elemental force, akin to gravity, electromagnetism, strong and weak nuclear force. This force has a particle, the ‘thaum’ that seems to be related to the axion of the dark matter, it seems to be generated by the interaction of stars and singularities with space-time, flows freely in ley lines across planets, specially inhabited ones and is basically part of the catalogue of dark matter particles that explain why the universe is the way it is. It’s even related to the form of energy that powers mass transportation withing Theia, the planet where Tempest Blades takes place. Magick force thus forms part of the very fabric of reality and can be used to shape by strong users, providing they can deal with a few caveats.
As anything related to energy, you need a medium to conduct magick, be it a staff, a crystal or your own body. Then you focus the energy and think on a mathematical equation simplified in spell form and voilá, you created a magic effect. Sounds easy, isn’t it? Well, it isn’t.
For starters, the thaum acts like radiation, with similar ‘properties’. While it is not dangerous for regular bodies, in great quantities tends to warp reality and anything within it, including the bodies of those trying to use it. Hence the comment of allergies. In Theia, there is a species of near-humans, named the freefolk, that are naturally attuned to this radiation field and can withstand it longer than humans. Their bodies can act as natural conducts, but the longer they use magick, the longer its energies mutate their bodies, from something simpler as hair color or animal features to… well really major changes. Usually, the transformation last for a few hours, days, maybe a month, depending on the intensity of the spell. But sometimes the changes get permanent and alter the genetic makeup of the freefolk and those changes get passed into their children. There were documented severe cases when they end transformed into metallic statues or simply exploded.
Explosions are a common feature, even with talismans that help with the energy.
Humans can do magick as well, but it takes longer preparations as they don’t have the gift from birth, they have to basically build it up from scratch through constant contact with magic.
Now, if magick acts as a radiation field, it should follow the same rules of energy conservation, which means that you can’t create neither destroy energy or matter or reality, just change it. Thus, as my characters point, in the narration, there is not such thing as a disintegratioInstead. Instead it is actually just a teleportation spell used in a very creative way,” Sam smiled wickedly. “Except that you don’t teleport the whole subject at the same time to the same place.
Bottomline, a magick user is warping reality using high energies while they brain is calculating thousands of quantum states through a spell. Magick in my setting is a half sister of quantum mechanics.
And like quantum mechanics, magick has some ground rules deduced after many centuries of experimentation (and explosions). Magick works in rules of three: Three types of magic, three types of levels and three types of characteristics.
Three types of magick:
Divine magic, the one that the believers of a faith use by asking boons from the Spirits Above, deities and nature. Summonings as well as some elemental and healing magic fit here. This magic calls upon the power of someone else through the power of faith and thus is ‘easier’ to do and requires less energy, but requires the right incantations and sometimes the user ends owing a debt to the spirits.
Natural magic, the one that draws from the magic field of the planet using spells or raw power. Most elemental magic, illusions, mirages, curses, attacks, defenses and reality warping fit here. Around 80% of the spells enter here. To use it you have to be attuned to the magick field or know the right procedures and have the willpower to control it. It’s the hardest way to do magick because it comes from the inner connection of the person to the world.
Daemonology (also known as Infinity pit magic). That’s self-explanatory. Similar to the Divine magick but works around deals done with the beings that inhabit the Infinity Pitt (Theia’s Hell). As it is easier to do (even more compared to Divine) and has faster results, it tends to be quite addictive, dragging the soul of the user more and more into the clutches of beings like the Pale King, the Crawling Chaos or the Dreaming Priest.
First level (Cantrips): the entry level so to speak, especially for humans and freefolk without the natural inclination for magick. It requires massive preparations and rituals, study and most often than not, objects of power to focus the energy. A wizard in this level can do as many spells they have learned and if they have the raw materials (if required) to do so.
Second level (Incantations): the wizard internalizes the knowledge and ability required for a spell and draws directly the energy from the world and into them, using their body as the conduit and through words and gestures to cast the spell. The number of spells available to a wizard depends on their memory, training, and skills. This is the upper level for most wizards and the natural one for the freefolk of mature age. Some freefolk tribes and schools such as Ravenstone have even developed a form of hand to hand combat that combines movements from titanfight and kuni martial arts among others with casting gestures. The best combat wizard in this style earns the title of ‘Dragonking’ and is considered a leader and protector for most freefolk. This is also the level where more genetic mutations take place due to the use of the body itself as a conduit for the energy. Thus even if a wizard reaches this level, they will use a pendant or another item to help themselves and ease the strain on their bodies,
Third level (Visualizations): the highest level possible and the most difficult to achieve. In it, the wizard has become so adept at commuting with magick energies and directing them that just by visualizing something the change to reality happens. Wizards on this level still use helpers such as pendants, staffs or small gestures to focus their minds into their actions. To cast a spell, besides the energy expediture, the wizard’s mind must be able to understand, at least at an instictive level the nature of reality and the inner works of the spell. Thus if a wizard has to achieve this level, they have to study for decades or have great inner power, maybe both. This is the kind of magick that the akeleth taught to the first freefolk at the Dawn Ages at the behest of the Trickster Goddess. Only a handful since then have achieved such level. The most memorable ones have been Queen Khary of the Freefold during the Hero Age; the wizard Mekiri, who is the current custodian of the Maze and the fabled Ravenhall library and a rumored current student at Ravenstone.
True Spell (Special): Among the freefolk it is said that you can get on ‘True Spell’ when you reach the third level. This spell becomes part of your existence and can be cast almost at any time and without any restriction beyond the energy required to do so. However the wizard cannot choose the spell, but it is the other way: the spell choose them based on their own true nature, a reflection of their personality and/or place in reality.
Spells have three main characteristics, derived from their interaction with space-time.
Range: most spells can cover only a determined area, a circle around the wizard. The larger the range, the more energy it requires to keep it’s strength and coherence.
Duration: most spells have a determined half-life, meaning that after a while they dissipate, once the wizard ceases to focus on them. The rate of energy consumption is proportional to the duration of the spell. In general, spells don’t last beyond a few minutes, perhaps a few hours. There are exceptions of course.
Intensity: also known as the ‘punch’ that a spell carries. It is the strength which the spell has to carry its purpose (e.g. the temperature achieved by a fireball and the explosion damage in its wake). The energy expenditure is exponential to the intensity of the spell.
A wizard can by general rule only focus on one, maybe two of those characteristics at a given time, even if they have reached Third Level. Only the aforementioned Queen Khary and Mekiri the Great, the akeleth and some Montoc Dragons were or are known to manage the three of them for shorter periods of time.
A regular spell at must last a few hours has a range of no more than thirty meters and the more intense is, the more explosive the backlash is. Reality doesn’t like being pulled around. Exceptions to these characteristics exist of course. Curses can last for ages, as they drain energy from its victims/places/objects. Teleportation spells do exist, but while the object being teleported remains at its new destination after the energy dispells, they only work if the caster has clear line of sight or clear image of the object and its destination (robbing a bank with one is possible, but most vaults have counterspells and other measures to avoid that). Disintegration spells are just randomized effect teleportation spells. The only know spells that have lasted for centuries are the ‘Sweet Oblivion’ spells cast by Queen Khary that consumed most magick energy of the planet for centuries to protect it from incursions and the spells involved in the creation of the Maze, Ravenhall and Ravenstone.
Dispelling spells by non-wizards is possible only if the subject has a stronger willpower (as it would work in conjunction with reality asserting itself), rare mutations or certain weapons such as the Tempest Blades or a few of the ‘god-killing’ weapons forged by the twins or the blizzard walkers during the earlier ages.
Magick as this is hard to use in deep space, as magick concentrates on planets with life and stars being the original source. Given the distances between stars and planets in the interstellar void, even with dark energy around the wizards seem to have problems keeping the spells characteristics coherent. Hence why there are few freefolk enlisted in the United Space Program. However earlier experiments within the stringspeed (as described here, have shown weird effects to the most common effects of a spell).
The above described is the most well-studied magick system on Theia. It doesn’t account for the shujenga of the demonhunters from the Kuni Empire (although it works under the same principles), the shamanism of a few errant tribes, some less known magickal creatures or the Samoharo.
Regarding this last one mention, the Samoharo’s magick is barely known because of their usual secrecy, however, a few principles are known given that they have been imitated by people from the Straits and the Colonies. Their magick is known as ‘blood magic’, due to the use of it as fuel, and incorporates elements of metamorphosis, transfiguration, dreamwalking and elemental control. The actual rituals are unknown but the use of ointments seems to be common.
Well, I just hope you have enjoyed this talk about the worldbuilding of my stories. Thanks for reading. Comments are welcome.