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I have a magic system with two types of magic: black and white.

Black is a liquid that can be frozen/condensed into a slightly tougher than ice, crystalline solid, that can be refined into pointy things through practice in bending. Demons and some humans can control black magic, which was created by the god of Void.

White magic is a gas/powder that can be condensed into solid objects when controlled. Unlike black magic, this is more of a smooth metal type solid, and, kinda like black magic, through practice one can refine it into a sharp object. Angels and some humans can control white magic, which was created by the god of Holy.

There is also a third god that I don't really have much of a use for other than that he created life and the Earth.

So:

  • Black is liquid, white is gaseous/powdery
  • Black is crystalline, white is metallic.
  • Black can't be sharp, and white can't be pointy.

The problem:

  • There is no limit on bending. The only limits are that a demon has to bring black magic into heaven to use black magic; they can't summon it there. An angel has to bring white magic into hell for the same reason.
  • This means that someone could just summon a pike behind their enemy and stab them anytime they want without the enemy realizing.
  • I don't want to just limit white and black magic to a certain level because I love the idea of someone summoning a massive block of black magic and swinging it around, before slamming it into the ground causing shockwaves, or someone summoning a massive white magic construct and having it circle them, forcing whoever's fighting them to parkour and dodge the constructs and blades, and shields.
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    $\begingroup$ Metals are crystalline solids, unless they are in liquid form. And of course unless they are in amorphous form, but that cannot happen outside very strictly controlled conditions. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Feb 11 at 15:31
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    $\begingroup$ oh. well you still get the jist of what i mean. black looks more crystaline, and white looks more metallic. $\endgroup$ – michael griffin Feb 11 at 15:33
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    $\begingroup$ I hate having to do it to my own answer, but if you leave it a day before picking an answer you might get some better suggestions from other time zones. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Feb 11 at 19:13
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    $\begingroup$ Off topic, and not meant to be discouraging, but: the "white magic good/divine and black magic evil/hellish" trope has been done to death in pretty much every medium. L.E. Modesitt Jr's Recluse series is one of the few that manages to avert this (and does so brilliantly and in a science-based way to boot), but a simple way for your world to avoid it is by calling your magic something other than black or white. $\endgroup$ – Ian Kemp Feb 12 at 9:17
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    $\begingroup$ So the Problems listed up: Problem 1: There is no limit. Problem 2: Magic could let magic happen. Problem 3: Problem 2 is quite cool, so not being considered a problem actually. ... Thats what I understand so far on a breakdown. And what exactly is now the problem that needs to be fixed here? $\endgroup$ – Zaibis Feb 12 at 11:27

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An easy explanation would be that it’s not just the physical world you’re dealing with. Your willpower must be able to reach out from your body to perform the action you wish. Magic is a physical manifestation of Will, but for there to be magic first there must be Will.

If someone else with magic is standing in your way it is trivial (unless they’re distracted by avoiding, say, a swarm of sharp things) for them to exert some of their Will to prevent yours from flanking them. So too can you prevent them from manifesting effects behind you. If your ability to project raw will drops off quickly with distance then ‘getting behind’ someone is impossible. Their will will always beat yours before you can manifest an effect.

So instead you focus your will near/behind you, create a giant war hammer out of your favoured magic and swing it overhead to crush them. Or make that pike and hurl it at your enemy. You can give it shape and energy while it’s near you and your Will is uncontested, but trying to do the same near your enemy just opens you up to them stopping you dead and then hurling a cloud of shuriken at your face. Constructs, once imbued with your Will, maintain themselves, but controlling them directly is much harder if an enemy is between you and them performing the magical equivalent of electronic warfare.

TLDR: raw will is easy to disrupt at distance.

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  • $\begingroup$ ooh, that sounds equally awesome as willks. that also just gave me the idea of maybe the opponents Will disrupts it to the point that its hard to control magic when it's behind them, making it hard. we can also combine this with willks so that someone in the wrong place using magic makes them just too sick to really control their will well in general, making earth the best battleground for both. and maybe if they get skilled enough, their will just increases in size and strength, allowing for me to do some of the even cooler shit? and also this could be why magic weighs more, the bigger it is. $\endgroup$ – michael griffin Feb 11 at 16:01
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    $\begingroup$ Even if you let weak willed people generate just as much magical ‘mass’ as the strong willed, they’re just not going to be able to keep it up as long. Plus a really strong willed individual might be able to manifest magic behind a weaker magician as a sort of super impressive ‘screw you’ move $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Feb 11 at 16:06
  • $\begingroup$ that seems fair. that also gives a reason as to why one demon/angel/human is the leader, and others aren't. $\endgroup$ – michael griffin Feb 11 at 16:10
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    $\begingroup$ This also has the advantage of being a softer limit, so it still leaves open the possibility that someone could, in certain cases, still pull off the "materialize a dagger behind their back and stab them with it" trick, but not trivially, and when someone does manage to do that, then you know you're dealing with someone who's not just more powerful than they guy they just backstabbed, but so drastically more powerful as to be on a completely different level. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Najmon Feb 12 at 5:27
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Magic is environment dependent.

/The only limits are that a demon has to bring black magic into heaven to use black magic; they can't summon it there. An angel has to bring white magic into hell for the same reason/

Riff on this. Heaven and hell are the absolutes. In between there is variability in the amounts of black and white available. One could consider it like magic altitude - there are high places which are not quite heaven but in which white magic is much easier to come by than black. There are low places which are not quite hell but where black magic is easier to come by than white. These places might be the way they are because of things that happened in the past - a saint's tomb, a great massacre etc. Or by chance.

A high magical altitude place might gradually shape itself because of the availability of white magic - the geology, plant and animal life will gradually come to reflect the presence of white magic and dearth of black magic, and vice versa.

Your black magic wielder with the earthshaking black magic wallop will be doing this in a low magic altitude place. The black magician in such a place will be cocky and drunk with black magic. White magic wielders opposing him will know they are at a disadvantage in such a place where they will feel sick and weak, and so might be reluctant to show up. Or if they must, they plan for that disadvantage.

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    $\begingroup$ oohhh you are giving me so many great ideas for plot, and geography of the world. honestly, your idea seems like an amazing thing to use/execute in my story. I never really thought about an animal or plant using black/white magic before as well. I still think that one should be able to bring and move white magic into black magic spaces, and vice versa. for example, there is a part in the story where a demon terrorist brings a hulking mass of black magic into heaven to attack a main hanging tower and destroy it. but I still love the idea of having altitude affecting magic and making you sick. $\endgroup$ – michael griffin Feb 11 at 15:53
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    $\begingroup$ I can imagine your demon terrorist striding in with his hulking mass of black magic which he then expends in his attack. Then he feels absolutely horrible and depleted. He did not realize that the black magic he had with was sustaining him. He is not going to be able to leave the way he came in. Unless his wingman has brought a little extra for this reason... $\endgroup$ – Willk Feb 11 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ yeah. i was thinking it was gonna be more of a suicide bomber type deal. an important character they were trying to help gone terrorist and suicide bombing the angels. (demons aren't inherently evil and angels aren't inherently good in this world btw) $\endgroup$ – michael griffin Feb 11 at 16:04
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Two major magic systems come to mind: the Force from Star Wars and your obvious inspiration source, bending from Avatar: the legend of Aang/Korra.

In both cases, there is no hard limit to the amount of magic one can put into their surroundings. The bending is limited by one's skill, self-confidence and concentration, and to some extent genetics.

So your characters don't accidentally change the orbit of the planet with their magic because in their minds, they believe they can only deal with so much substance at a time, and only for substance at some distance. Supreme acts of opening a can of whoop-ass require supreme concentration or supreme plot.


As to why wizards don't sodomize each other with sneaky magic lances, here are some possible reasons:

  • They are not rogues.
  • It takes time to form the lance, and only someone really oblivious wouldn't notice. So unless your world has smartphones to distract people, such attacks would not be efficient.
  • Honor system. Our world has a lot of conflict, with people murdering each other at alarming rates. We too have ways to sneak attack people. How come we get more stabbings and shots to the head and chest than to the bums? Think of it.
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  • $\begingroup$ I've actually thought of it also being honor based. but then there are times when someone does ignore honor, and thus that person is nigh unkillable because anyone who even remotely opposes them gets killed. then again we could just kill them as easily as they kill us. but that is a good analogy, considering how often we use deadly weapons to kill people in a snap. i think i just want epic anime battles between people who hate eachother verry much, and can't find a logical reason why they wouldn't just pull a gun out and blast them. $\endgroup$ – michael griffin Feb 11 at 15:43
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    $\begingroup$ @michaelgriffin An honorless opponent does actually provide an interesting writing challenge, but in a good way. You can now make a choice whether you wish your protagonists to be lawful (we value honor, even if our opponents don't), chaotic (if they break the rules, so can we) or neutral (There are certain lines we won't cross, but everything up to that point is fair game) and come up with solutions based on that. In some ways, a character that's contrary to the morals of the rest of the story challenges the author to find proper reactions for the rest of the world. $\endgroup$ – Nzall Feb 12 at 13:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Nzall Yeah, that's why I'm accepting the will answer, because it allows me to have honorless opponents. It's still incredibly hard to kill someone through spiking inside the heart but it's not impossible. Also I think my character is neutral chaotic good mix. She generally does things for good, but she's still generally chaotic in her opinions, and if you make her mad, she'll decide how far she'll go based off you. so she's generally honorable but she will go quite far to stop you if she disagrees. She ain't lawful cause lawful is with the angels, and they are shitty. $\endgroup$ – michael griffin Feb 12 at 14:08
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so there are three gods. two of them are useful, the last one just exists because they created some shit and he contributes nothing else. what if the third god balanced magic? and I don't mean like limiting magic to a cap level, I mean just balance it between people. so that way someone who is a master of white magic or black magic can't easily overpower an apprentice. the third god could be there to just make it impossible for someone to summon a white or black pike behind their enemies and shove it up their ass. you don't have to limit it, mostly because no matter how much you limit it, it will always be easy to just summon a pike behind their enemies back, but also because you just have to make the third god make it impossible for people to shove stuff up peoples ass. how? they're a god, why ask how? they just do.

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A practitioners willpower (or summoning ability or whatever) is divided into three main components: force, precision and control. In order to increase one of these, you must take away from one or both of the others.

Force
The simplest component, essentially the willpower required to draw sufficient magic to get the object here and get it moving (outward from the caster). Massive objects require a lot of force, leaving very little left over for precision and control. The more force is applied the faster the object will travel, relative to it's mass. Lighter objects can move very fast with only a moderate amount of force. A large boulder can only be hurled straight at an enemy. A non-projectile object, such as a sword or shield only requires enough force to bring it into existence, allowing for far more precision.

Precision
By giving up mass, more willpower can be put into the exact shape of the object. The more complicated the object, the more precision is needed. Summoning multiple unique objects is additive, so summoning a sword and shield takes the sum total of their respective precision. Summoning duplicates of the same object is logarithmic, so a swarm of shurikens requires far less than their individual sum total. Summoning a swarm of shurikens requires far more precision than a swarm of pebbles, since each individual object is more complex. (Note: when practical, users will often summon small throwing weapons with minimal force then throw the object themselves, allowing more willpower to be allocated to precision.)

Control
Control is the most complex component, allowing the user to manipulate the orientation and direction of objects, relative to mass. A spear shot at an enemy doesn't do much good when it flies end over end and hits them sideways. Control allows the user to orient the weapon correctly and control its flight. Controlling multiple objects individually is multiplicative, with each object doubling the amount of control needed. Controlling multiple objects in a group is logarithmic, with each object requiring less than the one before. A straight line requires minimal control (especially when precision is used to create a more aerodynamic weapon, like an arrow, that will fly straight on it's own. Getting a sword to fly straight, stabby end forward, is much more difficult). Control can also be used to redirect the path of an object or hold it in the air. Small adjustments don't take much, a steady arc takes more and stopping an object and sending it in a new direction entirely requires a lot of control (note: creating a steady arc of small, simple shards that circle around the caster as a unified group is very advanced, but still much simpler than controlling 2-3 knives that individually attack multiple enemies at once, which is considered to be one of the most difficult abilities possible). Counteracting gravity and levitating an object requires a moderate amount, proportional to the objects mass. Control is also used to specify the location at which the object appears. The farther away, the more control is needed. Summoning a pike directly behind your enemy with perfect orientation and position will likely take too much precision and control to have any left over to move it to the...correct location. Using less force and precision to make a small rock, however, might be quite effective in a different way ;)

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  • $\begingroup$ I think our visions are a little different between each other but it sounds interesting. That can all just be summed up into "skill" honestly. $\endgroup$ – michael griffin Feb 11 at 19:09
  • $\begingroup$ @michaelgriffin Yeah, this is kind of my hard magic take on your system. I got the impression originally that you were going for something much softer, but you clearly don't want it too soft, since you are looking for additional mechanics to limit its scope. I figured I took it father than you were looking for, but hopefully you can find something in there that fits :) $\endgroup$ – WillRoss1 Feb 11 at 19:27
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    $\begingroup$ yeah i'll look a bit closer. most people on here i've added something from. $\endgroup$ – michael griffin Feb 11 at 19:29
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While others fiddle with the mechanical aspects of a versatile bit of magic, this answer will strive to deal with the personal aspect of it.

A magic system requires not only the power and the rules surrounding it, but people to use it. Every person might be theoretically able to do everything that the magic can do, but it does not mean that they have the ability in practice.

To us that create it, the idea that you can create weapons behind somebody and launch them might be obvious, but it might not be an obvious or easy thing to the people of the world.

People Specialize

Just because it is theoretically plausible to do something, does not mean that everyone can do it. Polearm sodomy is a pretty specific skill and one that really only has the purpose of assassination or slapstick. Even then, there are likely better ways to do it with enough creativity. Also, not everyone has the mindset to summon polearms out of nowhere and throw them at people. It takes a certain kind of hero to do that.

That typed, you will have the assassin that fights by trying to launch weapons at blind spots, creating distractions, and otherwise using ambush tactics to win in a fight. Likewise, there will be someone that creates a giant golem to fight with while they stay preferably out of sight. On a more mundane front, you will have people that put White or Black magic to use in mundane pursuits such as farming or blacksmithing.

Most people will figure out that they are good at one or two things, then hone it into something that they can use on a regular basis. Some will choose to generalize, and they will be dangerous for the ability to do more, even if it isn't as masterful as what others that specialize in it can do.

For an idea, look at the secondary cast of Naruto -- chakra there can basically do anything. While there are a few set "basic skills", the characters have their own specialties and generally do not stray from it, though they may elaborate on them. Affinity and ability play into this, but rare is the character that is more of a dedicated generalist in the chakra arts there. Likewise, Hunter x Hunter is similar, with basic techniques that everyone can in theory use, and a personal skill that a character develops then elaborates on as time goes on. However, a character tends not to create a second all-new skill. They can however, apply the one they develop in various ways.

Affinities

Related to specialization above, people might have an inborn ability to a certain type of magic (white or black) as well as a certain way of using it. Related to the idea above that people will gravitate to a small subset of magical ability, this actually codifies that into a restriction of the system.

Depending on your desire, it might be possible to learn a magic that lies outside your affinities. Alternatively, it might be next to impossible to do so.

In summary: While the system can do almost anything, a person can't.

People are Uncreative

Avatar's bending is quite versatile if you think about it -- one can achieve a lot with control over one of the classical four elements. But if you watch the show, a good amount of the bending is similar to each other when seen in the show. Of course, there is only a small subset of the bending world shown, so what lies outside the told story could be different.

If your black and white magic is only passed down through tutelage from teacher to student or master to apprentice, then those students might not really think about using this magic in different ways. People will get used to the standard forms, and build a personal style based around it. Only a few might experiment and try to create something new and/or powerful as a personal skill.

This will go doubly so if the authorities that teach magic can arbitrarily decide what is taught and/or allowed to be known. Not that does not stop secret assassination techniques, but they won't be common because they won't be taught. Also, formalized teaching might start by teaching self-defense and shielding before moving on to attack skills which means that by the time these people grow up, a full-body defense might be a normal thing.

This is not necessarily a sleight against the people of your world -- it's just an application of the saying "If it ain't broke, don't fix it".

Personal Ability

Obviously not all people are created equally. Some will have more power, while others more control. Not everybody will be actually capable of doing everything, and most of this can be increased by training should somebody actually want to.

If willpower is needed to gather and shape magic, then there will be some people that can smash with large blocks of power while some could only create a single personal item to use/launch.

Capacity to wield magic can be another factor. Since it looks like this style of magic works by manipulating a physical substance, the amount that somebody can use is a personal skill. One that people can probably train to be better at.

Ability to output magic is a third potential parameter -- how much can a caster wield at a time. Somebody that can keep an item conjured for hours will have a different experience than someone that can create a giant golem but only for five minutes at a time.

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Shaping can only be done at near touch distance

It's an easy fix. You don't have to mould by hand but, say, 5cm (2in) away from your hands the material takes the shape you want. This means people can't just manifest powers anywhere but doesn't hinder the actual manifestation itself. You can have the shaping be as fast as you need it - it can take seconds, it could require a bit more time, perhaps. The important thing is to just be at closer range.

Animated GIFs used as examples are spoliered just because they tend to flashing a lot

This plays nicely with common depictions of magic where somebody would run their hand over something and reshape it

or even materialise an object seemingly behind their palm as it moves

Tweaks and variations are possible depending on need. Some examples:

  • The thing being shaped can have a transitive property. You can grab a sword and then shape the rest of the blade, for example without running your hand over it. Gives more leeway but still prevents just producing spikes anywhere.

  • The range of the shaping can be changed. Perhaps that requires more concentration, so you can manifest powers few metres away but it's exceptionally hard to surprise somebody with this. Or perhaps it requires expertise that few ever attain.
  • Propagation of shaping to reach behind somebody or more generally afar is slow (at least enough to react) and visible (at least enough to be noticed). The magic has to travel there, so you can't just surprise somebody with this, even if you're able to manifest powers pretty much anywhere.

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  • $\begingroup$ In case people are wondering - I only know where the first and last GIFs come from. First one is Full Metal Alchemist the last one is from Avatar: the Last Airbender. The others just came up when I searched for "summon sword gif" and they seemed appropriate. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Feb 11 at 17:50
  • $\begingroup$ This sounds good for doing more refined/specific things, but I would still love it if I could just create a long polearm/massive blocks of void or generally more simple things. But if my character is making something like a gun, or a refined sharp af blade, then yeah it has to be touching the object. $\endgroup$ – michael griffin Feb 11 at 18:19
  • $\begingroup$ @michaelgriffin then just have it as a transitive property combine with slower moving effects and you have a system with quite big reach and power but you're limited to having to touch a part of the magic effect. This show does it randomly found that one, actually, but it illustrates the approach well). There is also Avatar. Earthbending tends to rely on either throwing stuff or maintaining contact for more control. Waterbending does not need direct contact but still close to the bender $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Feb 11 at 20:06
  • $\begingroup$ I'd say that the magic is more like earth bending when solid, which the reach of water bending for black, and for white it's more for earth bending mixed with Air bending. $\endgroup$ – michael griffin Feb 11 at 20:14
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While looking over the question I realized I had a limitation in a magic system I've developed that might work well for you, but I see Joe Bloggs has already listed half the idea behind my limitation. Ah well, I'll share anyway.

Area of Dominion

An area of dominion is a sort of unconscious defense every living creature (or maybe just intelligent creatures, or maybe just ones capable of magic, whatever works for your world) has against magic. Basically, within that area, the creature's control over their magic is maximized, and an enemy's control over magic is reduced greatly or nullified entirely. It extends in all directions to a distance (a foot? a few feet?) based on (willpower? Magical might? Whatever works for you).

This mainly stops tactics such as manifesting a spike/razor inside an opponent's brain/heart and just instantly killing them.

Constructs do not fall apart within an opponent's dominion, but they cannot be altered or controlled. So the basic idea is to simply create your construct outside the dominion, and then throw it/swing it into the dominion of an enemy and let inertia take care of the rest. You can have "homing" projectiles (that are just you controlling them to follow the opponent), but once they enter a dominion they continue on the fixed path based on their momentum/aerodynamics, giving opponents a chance to dodge, with more margin for error the bigger their dominion.

Larger constructs do offer some level of control within an enemy dominion, as you can simply hold the construct by the parts of not within the enemy's dominion. Things like chains/ropes could also offer control, but either way it's not to the same level as you'd have outside the dominion, and perhaps vulnerable to being broken without you being able to reinforce the construct.

When two opponents get closer to each other, you could have the dominions either push up against each other, perhaps with the stronger dominion being more resistant to being pushed back because of their initial size or just a certain factor of hardiness. This gives stronger users the option to simply walk closer to their opponents to deny them space where they can manifest their magic, while allowing themselves to manifest/control constructs closer to their opponent, making them harder to block/dodge. Or they could simply cancel each other out.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think the dominion is just a bit too restricting. Maybe have it go out about a foot of the body? $\endgroup$ – michael griffin Feb 11 at 20:40
  • $\begingroup$ @michaelgriffin I didn't specify a range for the area at all (though I'll edit to make this more clear). I didn't want to start getting into specifics about how far the range is and how much it extends based on willpower/skill/training/whatever, it's something that can be tinkered with depending on what kind of strategies you want to enable. $\endgroup$ – Frozenstep Feb 11 at 23:45
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a demon has to bring black magic into heaven to use black magic; they can't summon it there. An angel has to bring white magic into hell for the same reason.

Going from that, I can imagine people carrying around bottles or vials of (very concentrated) magic, and using the magic from there. You can't just make a magic spike appear behind (or, even more broken, inside) someone's butt simply because there is no (sufficiently concentrated) magic there to be handled in any way.

This also creates the possibility of actually allowing what you wanted to avoid, if someone leaves a vial or a puddle of magic hidden somewhere. Imagine laying magic in an area as a trap that you can use against your opponents. Maybe they can also use it, if they see the hidden vials.

Imagine someone ingesting magic. Ok, please don't imagine that.

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To expand on @Frozenstep answer about the dominion idea : you should read the story The Zombie Knigth Saga by Frost.

In it, there are people with superpowers. They can materialize stuff, but there is a limit : you cannot materialize inside someone else range. The twist is that the range is relative between people : the more powerful you are, the more you can materialize near someone. There is an instance of someone materializing a spike directly inside someone else mouth, but it's made clear that it's because of the power difference between the two.

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  • $\begingroup$ I just realized that FrozenStep is awfully similar to "Frost" .... $\endgroup$ – Carassus Feb 12 at 13:11
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Option 1: More deadly magic takes longer to cast

Sure, someone can summon a pike behind their enemy, but that form of insta-kill would have to have a greater cost to the caster (more energy, longer time, etc.). If it takes too much time it can be countered, and/or if the cost is too great then they might be 'out of mana' so to speak for the rest of the encounter.

And if one magic-wielder is so powerful that they actually are able to cast these spells with minimal cost, then so be it - that's what makes them so strong!

Option 2: Forbidden magic

I don't like this option as much, because I can't imagine followers of the God of Void concerning themselves with what is/isn't allowed, but your problem could be resolved with a concept similar to 'Unforgivable Curses' in Harry Potter. I'm not sure this would apply to you since your spells are more generic / free-form, but perhaps using something so deadly that it can't be countered would be considered 'unforgivable'.

I personally think option 1 is pretty good - I can't imagine that all magic-wielders would be able to easily summon things that would kill someone immediately - that would be left to only the most elite humans / demons, at which point your limitation is only by difficulty level and can be achieved with enough practice.

I hope this provides some value and good luck!

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  • $\begingroup$ honestly, this really isn't where I want to go with magic. I am not into the whole ritualistic type stuff, that takes a minute to use. and while I do plan to have a sort of curse/divine gift type stuff, it's not gonna be related to that. I don't think you really understand the magic. it's not spells, it's legit just like earth bending and water bending from the avatar. its something you just do. not rituallistic in any way. $\endgroup$ – michael griffin Feb 12 at 20:01
  • $\begingroup$ @michaelgriffin Fair enough - I hesitated to use the word 'spells' because I know that's not exactly what you're talking about but I wasn't sure what else to call it without being too verbose, thanks for the clarification and good luck! $\endgroup$ – Imperious Feb 12 at 21:20
  • $\begingroup$ That's alright. Honestly I'd use the word "bending" as they do in the avatar. $\endgroup$ – michael griffin Feb 12 at 21:40

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