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My setting features what I call "psionics", essentially magic that I want to limit in scope and feeling of mysticism. Until a certain point in the story, psionics is relatively rare and varied, and psions are often struck with mental afflictions and erratic behaviour. Some powers they might have:

  • Manipulating organic matter like wood, flesh and fungus
  • Healing and manipulating blood or bodily tissue
  • Perceiving and affecting another living thing's senses and emotions
  • Archiving, psions being able to manipulate special devices to quickly and effectively journal their surroundings, such as proto-cameras and writing in several places at a time
  • Misshapen people, perhaps half-fused with plants, animal traits or fungi

At some point, the source of psion madness is found to be an eldritch-y abomination / ancient disruptor that is destroyed, with the main character partially merging with it. Weaker creatures of the sort are then discovered and harnessed into the "weave", the ultimate form of psionics, where a black, inky mass shaped into tendrils, weaponry, inks and other applications becomes mainstream. This creates several other forms of magic:

  • The "big" form of it that starts dominating society, where people use small quantities of it to replace lost limbs, build more quickly and express themselves
  • Weavelings, semi-autonomous golems

Aspects interacting with psionics include mental illness (swerving users to visualise and either control or unleash their neuroticism), drugs, and being in the company of others.

My problem is, this seems pretty all over the place, and as the story progresses, I want at least one civilisation to essentially turn the rare, mysterious force into what's essentially another aspect of the human body (like how most people have a voice, some have extraordinary voices through training, some have unique ones, etc.), and scientific discovery that changes warfare and philosophy.

I want a "unifying theory" or a top-level description of how and why it works that way, that can prevent it from blowing up into a lot of magical clutter, or unpredictable, hard to account for variety. "The mind can alter reality" isn't good enough, as I need it to be obvious that it can't, for example, shoot lightning or make people fly or grant invisibility.

And on the writing side of things, how can I use this theory without over-explaining things, a la "midichlorians"?

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  • $\begingroup$ Sounds as if you are having trouble deciding if you want a soft or hard magic system. What you tell us here sounds like a handwavy-soft and story serving system would serve you better. You need magic to do something? It happens, it's awesome and none cares about the deeper theory of magic. $\endgroup$ – TheDyingOfLight Sep 10 at 20:30
  • $\begingroup$ That's the thing, I think I want it to be hard, I just feel like I'm having trouble defining the rules of it so that it's not "10 schools of magic" magic, but rather an emerging expansion of humanity $\endgroup$ – Alex Mitan Sep 10 at 20:40
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    $\begingroup$ Hard magic is less about plausible origins and the WHY. It is more about the HOW. Sandersons Laws of Magic are more about how the author presents the magic and uses it in the story than WHY the magic system works the way it does. X-Men, for example, has a hard magic system, but the explanation for it is simply "mutants". Focus on HOW characters can use magic and how they are limited. $\endgroup$ – TheDyingOfLight Sep 10 at 20:58
  • $\begingroup$ Hm, okay, I understand, I suppose I'm looking for a way to unify the magic systems. In the X-Men example, it works because they want a variety of powers with little explanation. In my case, I want a unifying force that can cause both matter manipulation, physical malformations and emotional / cognitive alterations, for story purposes. Hm, I suppose a better question would be "why would telekinesis not be able to affect non-organic matter or energy", then. $\endgroup$ – Alex Mitan Sep 10 at 21:10
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What it looks like you have is a grand rule that your "psionics" has to interact with the living, or potentially once living. While possibly not the correct term you want to use, Biomancy is basically what you have by first glance.

What it looks like is that the core rule is that the source of this power has to interact with a living entity to enact a change upon that entity. More on that below.

Taking the list one by one and applying this premise to it:

  • Manipulating organic matter like wood, flesh and fungus is the direct manipulation of the living plant or animal for a purpose.
  • Healing and manipulating blood or bodily tissue is basically your first point of manipulating flesh only geared primarily for healing and restoration. The additional point is that this establishes that internal organs can be manipulated
  • Perceiving and affecting another living thing's senses and emotions is interaction with the mind of another living thing. This establishes that you do not need to necessarily affect them physically.
  • Misshapen people, perhaps half-fused with plants, animal traits or fungi look like either the transmutation or fusion of living things. Watch out with this one around small children and canines.
  • Archiving might be the only one that seems out of place, but if the special device incorporates something living, then this theory can still hold. If you go this route, then this introduces that the non-living can be affected by affecting something living that is a part of it.

As for the later uses of this ability:

  • [P]eople use small quantities of it to replace lost limbs, build more quickly and express themselves the black, inky mass that is used is/was a living thing: the eldritch disrupter. They have allowed slivers of themselves to interact with the living world at large and psionics are now manipulating this directly via the weave. The mind shapes the form of this shard of flesh, be it replacement limbs to feel whole, extra limbs to express a desire, or other forms.
  • Weavelings, semi-autonomous golems are much like the archiving devices. They could incorporate something living somewhere within the automaton itself, and that is how they are primarily controlled.

A core theory that you could potentially work with is that the power of the mind resonates with the living, and only through that resonance can things be manipulated. Individual talents and interpretations of that core statement can determine what exactly they specialize in.

The big thing you will have to define under this theory is what is living enough to manipulate, or what is needed in the living in order to manipulate it. You do not have to explain to the reader what this is, but you knowing that will help you set your limits on what powers you can introduce.

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