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The protagonist can do magic.

But not just any magic, no siree. And to do it, they have to negotiate with hallucinated personifications of ideals. Or what they'd look like if they lived up to that ideal.

There are sixteen ideals.

  • Justice (Holding others to a system of fairness) magic would be based on the principle of 'what goes around, comes around', including stuff like sympathy

  • Honour (holding yourself to a system of fairness, chivalry, and respect) magic would be about binding things together

  • Erudition (seeking knowledge and understanding) magic would be about cataloguing and linking

  • Honesty (not deceiving) magic would be about seeing the world as it truly is

  • Triumph (beating opponents) magic would be about resisting or inverting forces acting upon you

  • Thrill (revelling in pleasure) magic would be about holding onto sensations (but also things like ideas, emotions, etc.)

  • Levity (Inflicting misfortune on others for own amusement) magic would be about holding external things in a particular state until it is broken

  • Forgiveness (letting go of the transgressions or others, not maintaining a grudge or hatred) magic would be about repairing or resetting objects or injuries

  • Safety (Protecting yourself, mentally and physically) magic would be about moving away from danger, fortifying yourself for danger, etc.

  • Creativity (Coming up with original works) magic would be about changing aspects of things to make them into a new thing

  • Assimilation (becoming part of a group, removing the parts of your identity that get in the way of co-operation) magic would be about bridging the gaps between separate identities so they can work in harmony

  • Individuality (Remaining uninfluenced by others, and discovering who you want to be as a person) magic would be about separating yourself from others, and understanding who you are and what you want

  • Maverick (Going against the grain, doing things that others haven't, shaping the world around you) magic would be about ignoring limitations, and throwing everything you have into doing one thing

  • Mimicry (Copying those around you) magic would be about reproducing in yourself things you've observed in others

  • Dignity (Self esteem, self respect) magic would be about masking your inner self, and influencing others

  • Humility (Recognising your flaws, refraining from boasting) magic would be about weaponising your inabilities

The mechanism is going to be left fairly ambiguous, but I want to impose clear limitations and distinctions of each branch, with some things being clearly impossible with any of them, such as going back in time, seeing the future, etc.

Also, I want them to be roughly equal in power. Being the most honourable person ever must not make you objectively more powerful than the most peer pressured individual in existence. Powers may occasionally interact to do new things, but that is not the focus.

Conservation of energy is not really a thing that should be worried about too much, assume the protagonist is drawing from a constantly-refilling well of energy, but creating new matter from nothing is almost completely out of scope.

When considering things such as luck, assume lack of fate.

How then do I maintain balance between these, while presenting them as entirely distinct?

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closed as off-topic by sphennings, Logan R. Kearsley, kingledion, Aify, rek Feb 21 '18 at 19:36

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question does not appear to be about worldbuilding, within the scope defined in the help center." – sphennings, kingledion
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ This may be a case for game dev SE, since you are basically asking for balancing $\endgroup$ – SK19 Feb 21 '18 at 18:18
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    $\begingroup$ Worlds aren't balanced. If you're wanting balance you're probably thinking about game mechanics which are off topic for this site. $\endgroup$ – sphennings Feb 21 '18 at 18:46
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    $\begingroup$ Balanced is in the eye of the beholder as well. We are trained from a young age to believe the rich are better off than the poor, and the powerful are better off than the weak. Then there's that one old hermit that, despite being poor and weak, seems oddly happy. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Feb 21 '18 at 18:51
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    $\begingroup$ Is this for a game, or for a story? If it is for a story, you have great room to have an unbalanced system that you portray as balanced. Many famous books have magic systems that are utter poppycock, but they never show the sides where things don't make sense. On the other hand, if its for a game, the precise mechanics will matter. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Feb 21 '18 at 19:01
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings I beg to differ. Take the Star Wars universe for example, the universe itself seems to trend toward having equal numbers of sith and jedi, and the sum of the powers either side offers seems to be reasonably balanced. Natural equilibria is a thing, even if I can't fully put it into words here. These sixteen magical forces must be equal, because that's how the universe works. $\endgroup$ – Piomicron Feb 21 '18 at 20:50
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This is fairly unanswerable. Games with three factions are balanced with lots of play-testing and a never ending process of rebalancing as new issues develop with player finding new exploits. You are asking people not really familiar with your system to balance sixteen sides.

I can give some advice though. Give up on making it balanced by design. It might be possible but it would be a major pain and unnecessary. You do not need to make the system balanced, you only need to make it appear balanced. There is a huge difference.

You can just write whatever you want without any worry about the balance. Whatever works and looks cool. This is actually a good thing as it allows you to focus on making magic look and feel good. Just make sure that magic feels right every time it is used. Cut out any boring magic without mercy. Magic should be magical.

But that is just the first pass. After writing things just to look cool, there are going to be serious issues with the system. Lots of them too. Do not try to think about them. It might be possible but it would be a major pain and unnecessary.

Just look at the flavour of your (hopefully) cool and spectacular magic. Ignore all the critical issues, especially balance. Are the different forms of magic distinct enough? Do some of them seem as "me too but with new paint"? Go thru the text and find instances where magic is used where it is not clear and distinct which form of magic is used. Remove or rewrite them. Obviously without making magic less cool.

Do not be scared to cut things out. Even if you insist on sixteen being the magic number, you probably do not need to show everything. Some forms of magic might be rare, secret, proscribed, or just not really relevant to the story. If you can't make them look good and distinct, just cut them out. Focus on the forms of magic you have the best feel for, ignore the rest for now. After you understand the setting better, you might have better luck with them.

Now you have a draft that has all the things you actually need to balance and very little you do not need to balance. Read it and find out the ways the magic is not balanced. Think about ways those specific issues might be balanced without making the magic less cool or distinct. Fix the issues.

This can be tricky since you need overall balance, so you really need to think about the whole story. Which means you need to write and read the whole story before balancing the magic. If it is a series of some sort you might need to write a rough outline of kinds of magic that you want to be used in the future before doing this.

This is basically iterative or "agile" development applied to your issue. Create a useable prototype matched to the actual requirements to test and work on and then iterate it by fixing issues one by one in some order until remaining issues do not prevent release.

It is a valid and proven method of solving issues where design in advance would be a pain. Iterating small fixes based on testing is how games do balance, so it should work for you as well.

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Borrow the Tarot.

•Creativity (Coming up with original works) magic would be about changing aspects of things to make them into a new thing.

Page of Cups

The Tarot had nearly all of the personified ideals you describe - and also how they look! The Tarot system balances these powers insofar as such a thing is possible. The other cool thing about a tarot based magic is that the alignment of several cards is possible - and the inverse is possible too.

I am sure in your system the inverse of the Page of Cups would not just be upside-down. I am also sure I do not want to meet her or her fish.

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