I'm trying to write a story about the transformation of the protagonist's role in the community that matters most to them, and that community just happens to be a community of mages in a fantasy world constantly at war. But this is just plot.

I've come up with a magic system for the world that hopefully balances it with the rest of society, but I want to run it by an objective audience to see if it makes any sense.

I know magic is notoriously hard to write so I will try to explain as much of my system as possible.

It goes like this:

Imagine a fantasy world where there are these free currents of invisible magical energy that moves through the world randomly and unpredictably. The energy ebbs and flows gaining in strength and fading in strength based on a number of factors such as the time of year, the time of day, and the geological features of the world. No one can predict where they will show up and for how long they will stay in the same spot.

The energy itself is actually the metaphysical material of another universe where everything and anything can exist at the same time and is in a state of total anarchy, basically hell. The random anarchistic material of hell is leaking into my world and joining with the ordered material in it to create a new ordered hybrid material that can be harnessed as energy.

But, the energy can only be harnessed by individuals who are sensitive to the energy and are born being able to see the flows themselves. They are living conduits of the energy. These are the magic users. When the energy becomes into them they perceive it as nine separate aspects which are associated with different spellcraft.

Now, simply being sensitive to the energy isn't enough to use magic, the mage has to understand it, control it, and know how much to expose themselves to. Because if they don't three things can happen. One: prolonged contact with the energy will cause the mage to slip into insanity, at which point they can no longer function. Two: the more energy they take into themselves the greater danger they will become possessed by demonic beings from the other universe and the demon will eat their soul. For this reason, mages have to learn to master their minds and their willpower. If they manage this they can avoid danger to themselves, but they will never be totally safe.

a mage has to go through years of training and study to be able to master controlling the magic and protecting themselves from it at the same time. They learn these skills through established academies of magic that are sanctioned by their country's government. The governments then use the mages to serve the state and military for the benefit of their country. The mages really have no say in this matter they are made to serve the state regardless of how they feel about it because really what the state is doing is neutralizing a potential problem in their population. They can't have powerful magic users running around free because they pose a threat to public safety and the government itself. So they make the mages work for them and redirect their power.

But even once a mage is trained and working for the government, the extent his/her power is still limited. When they go through training they have to choose to specialize in one type of spellcraft based on the nine aspects of energy, and each specialized magic type has its strengths and weaknesses against other magic types. So if a fire mage goes rogue, a water mage can take him out, because water magic is stronger against fire magic. This adds an extra layer of security over the mages.

A mage will work to benefit the people in their daily lives by using their magic to help in various tasks like helping crops grow, healing the sick and wounded, fighting fires and making weapons and armor. But assistance is limited by the availability of the mages, rather or not the currents of magic are in the right place to make the spell work successfully, and rather or not the mage needs to distance himself from the energy to avoid going insane or being possessed by devils. The magic is not always reliable, so the average people also have to depend on their own work and technology to keep the society moving, but if a mage's help is offered and the conditions are right they won't refuse it. Mage's aren't paid for their services because the state takes care of them and the state is paid by taxing the people. So in a way, Mages are agents of a state-funded welfare and assistance program for the people when they need it.

The same rules apply to military applications, Mages can fight and use their magic for war, but their usefulness in battle depends on if the currents of magic are right, and they can't cast huge spells repeatedly against an enemy or defense spells because they will take in too much energy and endanger themselves. So the military can't rely on them too much and they need to field full armies of average soldiers to win a battle. Not to mention the enemy will have their own mages who can counter a mage's magic with their own.

One thing that I am concerned about in my system is the nature of the relationship between the mages and their governments. The governments are forcing the mages to serve them and their needs so in my mind that is exploitation, even though the governments take very good care of the mages and train them and give them a mission in life. The mages are putting themselves at risk by using the magic for almost no reward of their own and they would have the means to resist the will of the state. But then again I'm thinking this is a don't bite the hand that feeds you situation.

  • $\begingroup$ The question is pretty clear if you read the title of the question. $\endgroup$ – a4android May 19 '18 at 6:37
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    $\begingroup$ This magic is like the weather. For example, military situations can be influenced by weather. This would be similar. Getting benefit for this magic is also like agriculture. Sometimes good harvests, other times crop failure. Your mages might like farmers in mentality & outlook. Good to see you've thought things through about your magic. $\endgroup$ – a4android May 19 '18 at 6:47
  • $\begingroup$ Sort of like the weather, different regions in the world have a different strength of the currents. The strength of the currents will change randomly. The strength of the currents determines the power reserves of magic a mage can use and therefore its effectiveness. Every area in the world will have some level of current strength flowing through it that a mage can use to power their spells. The more energy reserves the mage has the more spells he can cast and the stronger they will be. But also the more danger the mage's mind and soul will be in through overuse of the energy $\endgroup$ – Guy Mann May 20 '18 at 3:59
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    $\begingroup$ It's personal taste, but I like your magic. It's capricious, unpredictable, dangerous, and yet obviously powerful with its strengths and weaknesses spelled out. A plausible way of doing magic. Have fun with it! $\endgroup$ – a4android May 20 '18 at 6:31
  • $\begingroup$ @GuyMann what are the limits of mages abilities given good conditions? Can they heal people? Build a damn?Teleport? Summon powerful creatures? How powerful? Can they destroy city blocks alone or just throw little fireballs? very relevant for balance and power. $\endgroup$ – Murphy May 21 '18 at 11:54

Normally, I'd be confused why an a group of intensively powerful individuals would be able to be oppressed into servitude, but your inconsistency of magic and insanity seem to be good counters.

There is the problem of the state being able to "manufacture" mages. Mages wouldn't want to become mages cause its a massive health risk with a boatload of social stigma that won't pay, and the state would be dumb if they tried and force people to spend years studying magic-craft. "Lean how to generate explosions, turn humans into stone, and summon legions of daemons so I can whip you into complying with my needs, dang it!" The potential for ex-military domestic terrorist mages would be massive, even without the insanity angle.

So you need friendlier government recruiters and a incentive for magic sensitive people to become full on mages. I think you accomplished this with mental illness being common among the sensitives, and the symptoms being alleviated with increased magic skill (and maybe some rituals or materials). Picture this:

A character is huddled in a padded cell, covering their head with their arms and muttering to themselves. The door opens, and a man in a spotlessly clean uniform walks in. As the character retreats, the man draws a symbol on the wall and charges it with more magical energy than the character thought possible. Instantly, the voices vanish and the room stops spinning. As the character feels relief for the first time in years, the man in the uniform being a speal about the nobility of serving ones country and the duty of the magically gifted. But the real message is crystal clear.

Say yes, and they will teach you how to feel human again. Say no, and I will leave you right where they found you.

After that, the system is maintained by your system of checks-and-balances and the states ability to recruit new mages to replace the ones that die. For example, they might build asylums purposely near areas were magic fields are know to form in order to root out magically sensitive people. Finding ways to keep mages from "unionizing" would also be a priority of the state, like stationing mages far apart, limiting their ability to communicate with each other, and purposely generating factions (having three magic ministrations that compete for funding and public opinion, for example, or even playing the nine specialization of magic against each other).

As a whole, I think your system makes sense. Keep in mind that, while completely altruistic recruiters and handlers would definitely exist, the real incentive to for a government to fund mages would be profit. Even with the unreliability of magic, mages would be a huge economic boon and military deterrent. A lot of people in the state would think about mages as finicky, disposable tools rather than human with real problems.

Another think to think about is the reputation of mages before the state started training and utilizing them. Do the general public tell stories about mages that became serial killers or leveled churches to the ground? How many example of benevolent mages are there? Is the state posting flyers warning the public about mages or posters trying to make mages look heroic and selfless to fix their previous reputation?

I'm not sure why the mages would be payed only in room and board, though. Being able to buy your own food and some nice posters for your bunk is great for morale. If you need to control them, just don't pay them very much.

Sooooo, yeah. I like your idea and it defiantly engages me. Sorry that half of my answer is basically just restating your question.

  • $\begingroup$ So essentially the mages just need a more proactive reason for helping the state other than just being tools of the state? $\endgroup$ – Guy Mann May 19 '18 at 18:58
  • $\begingroup$ I think there needs to be a reason why mages need the state, at least while they are only magically sensitive. Otherwise it would make more sense for the state to be a tool of mages, not the other way around. The bit about pay was just was an easy way for the state to motivate their employees, nothing more. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion May 19 '18 at 20:01
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    $\begingroup$ Pay may be the answer. If the state is the chief financier of the mage schools, the continued existence of the schools within the interests of the mages could rely on state funding. Without the schools to help mages control their power you would have powerful insane demon possed people running around causing havoc. The mages get the help they need, society gains order and the state gets some new allies. $\endgroup$ – Guy Mann May 19 '18 at 23:30
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, that seems reasonable and parallels with real life institutions nicely. That could probably work. $\endgroup$ – Pinion Minion May 20 '18 at 0:16
  • $\begingroup$ ...damn that excerpt is evocative. Someone needs to write a short story on that ASAP... $\endgroup$ – Ynneadwraith May 21 '18 at 9:51

Quite a bit of your magic system reminds me of the 'One Power' in Wheel of Time (by Robert Jordan) - you should at least read an explanation of that magic system if you don't know it already.

The most relevant parts you can draw upon are:

1) The Wheel of Time world has an organized magic institution ('the White Tower'), where all magicians ('of the civilized world') are raised, taught and later work for. They regularly recruit all children with enough talent and thereby also make sure that all adult mages have a similar mindset and generally support this one organisation. Rogue / self-taught mages are very rare because they A) only occur if someone is overlooked and B) are actively hunted down. Since the organisation is generally respected by the population (and governments) most people cooperate with them and even send potential candidates their way.

2) (male) magic users in the Wheel of Time go insane, when they use their magic (slightly different reason than yours, but only slightly ^^). This make them very dangerous for anyone around them and is a big factor in easily allowing the organisation to take control over all (potential) mages - they are the only ones who can offer protection and in turn they take the right to take in all children with talent and prevent other people (who where overlooked) from developing their magic.


I will admit that I don't like indentured servitude of indefinite length, or more properly, slavery.

Your mages are slaves to the state. Yes,they gain value from the state from their training. Most of the books I've read separate the magic school from the state and problems occur when the state does take over.

An interesting book that uses this as a theme is "Od Magic" by Patricia McKillip. Anything by McKillip is worth reading twice, mainly because it usually takes two readings to figure out what has happened. "The Riddlemaster of Hed" is another of hers that is well worth reading.

I don't know how I feel about mages with random currents of magic which make them useless at random times. I could picture this being used too much to contrive weaknesses for the protagonist or antagonist. I feel there should be some way for the mage to store some magic within himself for those times when the magic currents disappear.

I know that the government, if it is close to a modern one, will want to control the power of magic. However, there are some things that can't be controlled. There will probably be rogue mages out there as well or better trained than the government ones. Perhaps there is an alternate power out there that only the rogue mages can use. Maybe it comes from some place more like heaven, or maybe it is just earthly magic. Maybe it isn't as powerful, but it's almost always there, depending on the season and place.

I would also be very interested in hearing your nine divisions of magic. There are so many ways to divide up magic. In my current book, I divide wizardry (natural magic, sort of) into the classical Greek Elements, but I use both their literal and symbolic meanings (Earth has physical protection, healing, some illusion, and growth; Fire has fire, magic, illusion, and scrying). Yes, much is duplicated in each division, but that is deliberate.

  • $\begingroup$ Nice idea about rogue mages. Also, if the government doesn't exploit mages someone else will, and that is likely to be worse. Assuming that government exploitation is for public purposes, that is (though not guaranteed). $\endgroup$ – a4android May 19 '18 at 6:43
  • $\begingroup$ The full magic system I came up with isn't all represented in this post, But I didn't think it would be a good idea to try to post everything because then the post would have been huge. I only posted what was relevant to my biggest concern which was rather or not making the mages slaves to the state was logical and balanced the system. If you are interested I can give the whole thing, but I'm not sure how to do that here. $\endgroup$ – Guy Mann May 19 '18 at 8:46

No, I don't think anyone would risk becoming a mage under these circumstances. I think it would be more balanced if mages were instead seen as part of an order (religious or otherwise) which also has privileges normal people don't have and has duties normal people don't have too, but most importantly, they have the respect of the society. They might even be seen as spiritual leaders since they are connected to beings whom the religion defines as supernatural.

They should be seen by outsiders as powerful and wise beings who help everyone, even if their reality is somewhat different - but I think it shouldn't be that much different if you don't want a rebellion on your hands. The state would need very strong propaganda to support the system if it is. I also think that serving in the military should be optional but also seen as a great honour.

Otherwise, what prevents your mages from lying to people who cannot see magic and telling them there is no magic around when they don't want to do something? Or that they have done too much magic recently and they cannot possibly do any more right now?

Untrained and unaffiliated mages could be seen as very dangerous, and maybe they run a high risk of going mad and harming themselves and their family/friends so people who can access this magic wouldn't be motivated to just not tell anyone. Although they could just not access this magic and they would stay safe in a different profession. I'm not sure whether you want for everyone to become a mage who can see magic or there can be people who chose not to.

Also, you didn't say what was the third thing that can happen.

Another thing is your religion: I'm not sure they would unanimously define this other place as "hell" and the beings that inhabit it as "demons" even if your main religion does.

  • $\begingroup$ In the first draft of the story, the mages were members of magic orders that were basically like adopted families who would teach younger mages the finer points of magic. The academies of magic would just teach them the essentials and then the orders would take over their training. Would it be better I went back to that idea? As for the third thing that could happen, that was a typo, I meant to type two instead of three. $\endgroup$ – Guy Mann May 19 '18 at 7:10
  • $\begingroup$ @GuyMann whether you go back or invent something different, you need a system that not just prevents mages from working against non-mages but one that motivates them to want to work for them. Unless your aim is to make it an unstable system which will be eventually overthrown. $\endgroup$ – Real Subtle May 19 '18 at 7:31
  • $\begingroup$ Well, that makes sense. Essentially everything comes down to the reader understanding the community the protagonist comes from because the story is about the protagonist getting fed up with their role in that community and wanting to change it. I think the reader would easily understand the community better if they had a moral reason for helping the rest of the society rather than an authority forcing them to do it. $\endgroup$ – Guy Mann May 19 '18 at 8:45
  • $\begingroup$ @GuyMann - Exactly. Being essentially slaves sets them apart from and against the community. I guess it all depends on how strong an opposition for this system you want. Whether it is a fight for basic human rights or it's just a bettering of the existing system and not a war against non-magical people. Their reasons for helping don't need to be moral, though - they can be motivated by material gains or religion as well. Fear can play a part, it just can't be the only motivation for this system to work well. $\endgroup$ – Real Subtle May 19 '18 at 9:27

It reminds me of the psychic police in Babylon 5: they actively hunt for children born with the talent and forcibly recruit them. An obvious consequence is that plenty of talented children will choose to hide themselves and train each other in secret.


Ideally, if this is high SF (or the fantasy version) you have in mind a real world analog to what you describe.

One real world analog would be violent men. They exist in the world, and they are born with a innate capacity for violence. Such men can be disruptive and so in an organized society, men with this "gift" are given the opportunity to learn self-discipline and channel that energy, using the capacity for violence in the service of the state - they are warriors (or policemen). A violent man might choose to serve the state, or not object to strongly to conscription, because he (or maybe his family) realizes he will be violent in any event and if this behavior happens without state sanction, he will either be killed by the sanctioned violent men or imprisoned. With state sanction he can be a force for order, and possibly even for good.

Violence can cause chaos and disruption. In a way violence comes from that place, just as your magic power comes from Hell. A man who gives himself over to uncontrolled violence is consumed by his demon. But violence channeled and under control by trained men can be used to oppose violence from outside, protect the weak and defenseless, and preserve society from powers that would destroy it.

You could really run with this. A violent person can slip his training and commit acts not sanctioned by the state. People trained for violence who have committed violent behaviors in the name of the state can have lasting psychic effects from their actions that haunt them. Or a violent person might outgrow his violent tendencies, and then be forced later in life to take them back on - the movie Unforgiven comes to mind.

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    $\begingroup$ They way I’m starting to picture it is along those lines. If the mages don’t go to the schools they suffer. They either go mad or they become possessed at which point they are the same as the enemy in the world and they will have to be killed. The schools can prevent that, but the schools need funding in order to exist, which the state can provide most of. The fully trained mages can then use their power to help the community. The prime motivations for the mages going along would be fear and the chance for respect and material gain by using their power to help. $\endgroup$ – Guy Mann May 21 '18 at 6:34

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