I have read the laws of magic and related articles, that is why I came upon this question.

For my world building I have been working on a magic system, it took me quite a while to find something even remotely close to what I have in my chaotic mind.

To be short the magic in my world exists in mana (lifeforce/ essence of life / ...). My magic does not discriminate, everybody can use magic, if they really want to. (Although there can be political or cultural restrictions). To cast spells, a mage has to gather some mana either form his surroundings (sucking it dry) or from within himself (the mana muscle).

The era my world is currently in is a new one, only 1000 something years old. the previous one ended with a series of great wars, rendering much knowledge lost, especially magical knowledge. I did this to keep a feeling of wonder and to be able to add in rules as I go.

Now, I have also added in that magic has different interfaces to interact with, meaning that two mages don't necessarily call upon their mana in the same way. The most common way is using spell circles and spoken words. The more basic spells can be performed by imagining the spell circle with your mind's eye, while the more complicated ones need real world spell circles and incantations.

I also have at least 3 other ways of 'doing magic'. One is a witch like way, a sort of nature magic controlled more by emotion then by logical sequences.

Another one is shadow magic. This one is also more controlled by emotion but has no bonds to nature, it is also highly volatile and hard to control.

The third is some sort of desert magic, with jinns being the practitioners.

I probably add in a bunch of more ways to interact with magic. My question now is does this negatively affect the credibility of my magic system? Does it make it seem less reasonable? I tried judging this by myself but to me it just always seems okay.

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    $\begingroup$ Sounds more like writers.SE question $\endgroup$ – ratchet freak Mar 30 '15 at 12:44
  • $\begingroup$ Ahh, my bad, how can I migrate ? $\endgroup$ – Robin Mar 30 '15 at 12:46
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    $\begingroup$ This really doesn't sound like writers. Writers about the process of writing but not idea generation or evaluation. $\endgroup$ – James Mar 30 '15 at 15:36
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    $\begingroup$ If you're worried about "credibility," I would be very careful about "add[ing] in rules as I go." It will be well worth your time to think very hard about an overarching framework for your magical system: something like, "magic is using the mind to control the flow of energy." As long as you keep the framework simple, and make sure that all of your rules fit inside the framework, then you won't encounter problems later on trying to tie the different magic systems together. $\endgroup$ – 2012rcampion Mar 30 '15 at 17:13

The obvious analogy to me is programing languages. Each programing language I write in works differently, some are object oriented and some are functional. Lisp and C have very different feels and paradigms used when programing them. And yet, in the end, the language I write gets converted down to machine language and all runs on the same computer. They have very different approaches to getting there, depending on what is easier for me to program, but they all 'compile down' to the same basic machine language.

I would go with the same analogy. Magic at it's root works the same everywhere. However, it's nearly impossible to control the magic directly, by trying to push the mana around with your mind bit by bit; humans simply can't process all the steps needed to do it. So we have figured out shot hands, magic 'languages' that interface with the mana and allow us to control it.

I think this can be done realistically. There are some small things you can add in to help it feel more justified.

1) Have some shared steps across all 'languages'. For example perhaps every language has some sort of shape or structure, like your casting circles, which is used in casting in some way. Maybe for shadow magic it's thinking of a pentagram (with no need to draw it) while casting, and for nature magic they wear moon shaped necklaces which they focus all their magic through. The shape, and how it is used, varies across languages; but In every case SOME shape is used as a focal point for the magic, implying that the raw magic needs a shape framework as the start of their spell. Likewise imply that the final steps of casting magic is very similar, the step that takes whatever spell you have constructed and combines it with magic to make something happen. Everyone uses a similar approach here, the equivalent to 'compiling' their spell. The more subtle commonalities you put in casting of the different languages the more they feel like different interfaces that overlay the same core magic.

2) Any magic type can theoretically do the same thing. Some languages may be better at casting a spell, but every spell can theoretically be duplicated in any magic. Perhaps it would take far more focus and skill to control nature using your circle magic, so much that it's not worth the effort to do, but in theory you can do it. Since they all use the same magic underneath anything doable by one must be doable by the other. It's simply that some approaches make it easier and faster to figure out how to cast the spell to do what you want.

3) If you tie some magics to emotions your need to address a connection to all magics as emotion based. Perhaps the non emotional magics still require a certain mental state when casting. The circle magic requires clearing emotions out of your mind, death magic requires a sort of bleak sense of how worthless life is, healing magic requires a drive to heal and help on an emotional level. In effect every magic requires a certain 'emotion' to work with. Some magics are unique in that they can work with many emotions, and be effected by how emotional they are, while other magics simply require a certain way of thinking or emotional desire to cast the spell, but their effectiveness isn't otherwise as strongly tied to emotions as others.

4) Finally, I would hint that these are all approximations of real magic. You said magic knowledge was lost, I would use that as a way to throw in foreshadowing. Perhaps in the past the true mechanisms of how magic worked were better understood, but the full understanding was lost. These magic languages are approximations used to make casting easier, the people of the past knew that. The people of the present don't understand that their magic approaches were designed simply as easier interfaces for controlling magic. However, you can always through hints and foreshadowing of this fact, run into old tomes of magic or myths which allude to the fact. Done well you can tell a savvy reader the truth of how magic works even as the protagonists haven't put it together.

If you have magic words I would suggest implying that the magic isn't in the words. Instead the words are simply a memorized route method of casting magic. Perhaps the words mean nothing, it's the thoughts that we go through when articulating the words. However, the people casting the spell don't know this, only that when they say abracadabra magic happens, so they keep using the magic word.

  • $\begingroup$ @geobits I was strongly debating using the phrase Turing complete actually :). $\endgroup$ – dsollen Mar 30 '15 at 19:00
  • $\begingroup$ Consider also that not all languages/compilers provide access to all of the same underlying machine code. A hardware platform may support special high-speed instructions for optimizing particular cases, which are then only supported by particular compilers. In a similar fashion, certain magical systems may have access to underlying elements of magical power that are inaccessible through the approach taken by other systems. A framework is necessary for limited human minds to access magic, but any given framework creates restrictions by the very nature of its limited construction. $\endgroup$ – Dan Bryant Mar 30 '15 at 20:00
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    $\begingroup$ I love your answer! I am a fresh bachelor in applied computer science and I didn't think of the analogy at all, I feel stupid now... The point 4 you described is exactly what I had in mind and your other points are extremely helpful. Thanks a lot! $\endgroup$ – Robin Mar 31 '15 at 6:20
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    $\begingroup$ And then you could have those guys who know more functional magic systems, but do spells in brainf**k or ><> for fun. $\endgroup$ – KSmarts May 6 '15 at 19:31
  • $\begingroup$ @KSmarts and then there are the whitespace magicians, a very tricky bunch that knows the most magical things can happen in the very absence of magic... $\endgroup$ – Garrett Motzner Jan 4 '19 at 22:37

I think you can maintain credibility with your magic system. I would feel comfortable claiming we have similar verbiage in real life describing martial arts. All of the martial arts are going towards the same goal, but the paths they take are strikingly different. Given that I can see real life corollaries, credibility should be possible.

If you wish to use this martial arts metaphor to maintain credibility, I recommend carefully crafting the way people view the world to match their particular magic style. If someone has "witch" style magic, they should view "holy" magic in witch-magic terminology, trying to explain how holy mages do their things in terms of the trinkets and familiars and spells witches use. A holy mage will describe the same abilities using different verbage. A natural magic worker might view holy magic as a very strict version of growth without much room for self expression.

Each style should be able to do anything, but there may be things which are hard to do using one style, and easy to do in another. If it is hard to do in a style, individuals who practice that style should develop lifestyles where they don't have any want to do things that are hard in their magic and easy in others.

As an example, Xing Yi, a Chinese martial art, focuses heavily on how to attack on straight lines. One would be foolish to believe they can't attack on curves -- such a mistake would be rectified shortly. However, their techniques function better on straight lines. They prefer it. Accordingly, they will structure their life such that many of the obstacles they want to overcome appear on straight lines.

In contract, Baugua, another Chinese martial art, focuses heavily on how to move in circular motion. Think they can't move in straight lines for a moment, and you'll regret it. However, their technique functions better on circles. They prefer it. Accordingly, they will structure their life such that many obstacles can be dealt with by rotating around them to find a better angle to attack.

If you ask a practitioner of Xing Yi about Bauga, they might say "sure, circles are nice, but if I can get ahead of your movement ever so slightly, I'll strike out in a straight line, and pulverize you. Circles are useless in comparison to straight lines. A practitioner of Baugua, when asked about Xing Yi, might say, "Yeah, they can put a lot of power on straight lines, but I'm not going to let anybody keep me on a straight line. I'll weave around, and when they weaken themselves by attacking and missing, then I'll strike them along a curve they can't predict."

Both styles are known as "internal" martial arts, and it is a commonly accepted attitude that they are "climbing the same mountain, just taking different routes." In fact, there's a third traditional internal martial art, Tai Chi, which takes even a different route. All of them go towards making the internal self better, but they do it in different ways. They each have different verbiages to describe the others, and practitioners will organize their life based on the strengths and weaknesses of their art.


I would say it partly depends on how easy it is to collect mana to use in the spell and how fast it replenishes itself.

I would guess that small spells would be rather common, easy to use and the person could easily recover from it. Collecting mana from other sources would be more difficult and (generally) require a concerted effort to gather in preparation.

I would also expect that gathering too much from a plant or area would cause lasting damage to the area, encouraging more 'reasonable' usage.

Taking these kinds of things into account, it could make the magic system reasonable.

  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I had these things already worked out in fact. Most of the current mages would use the mana in their surroundings, limiting them to the lower ranked spells and being bad for the direct surroundings of any magical school. But a mage using his mana muscle will have access to a much larger mana pool that increases in size each time he uses it. The size won't be infinite though and the top tier spells, almost all full on rituals, will require multiple mages with a large mana pool. My main fear is that it will lose credibility because of the mutliple interfaces with different laws each. $\endgroup$ – Robin Mar 30 '15 at 13:07
  • $\begingroup$ As long as they are logically consistent. If they are pretty intricate, then you might need an appendix to help keep things straight. $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Mar 30 '15 at 13:27

You should peruse the D&D Dark Sun supplements. They use a similarly "negative" mechanic for magic. (Pretty much exactly the same one, minus the different ways of gathering energy.) It definitely makes magic more feared, but it works in that (nigh-apocalyptic) setting.

  • $\begingroup$ I'll definitly read in on this, but I don't want all of my magics to be chaotic and unpredictable. The main shared feeling is that knowledge of them is lost. They all have rules and need to bend to those rules, but I want the "darker" fields to be more unpredictable and demanding of higher sacrifices. So to say I don't want to make a type of magic "evil" in its roots, I want it to work in a way that most people see it as something evil, only because it is used for evil. $\endgroup$ – Robin Mar 30 '15 at 12:44

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