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So I wanted my magic system to have spells based within different religions, each of which rooted in (but not limited to) the country of the race it corresponds too.

example

Dogfolk have their own spiritualist beliefs and spells that fit their style of worship to their deities, such as conjuring spirits and moonlit illusions or manipulating nature in some way.

I also wanted to give a way for religions to blend together and created the Church of the Collective Union, who believe all deities are real and your belief in them gives them power, allowing you to use different spells for worshiping multiple deities. to make a dynamic power system to reflect the personality of those who use it. However I seen how this could be abused, I knew I needed to a limit on what you can do within that system. So I made it so each religion has three core values. Then I also realized that most people would just join the collective for more freedom, so I decided to give "pure" religions kind of a bonus category of spells that is unlocked by mastering all three other cores.

example

The lizardfolk are strong people who believe their strength is what matters not their magic, so they use the magic they have to enhance the strength they have, they also have a strong culture of blacksmithing. Their cores are Steel, Fire, Power. They can manipulate metals and certain minerals. create and manipulate fire, and Power works as positive buffs to beef themselves up. If they master all three they can create simple firearms like muskets and cannons.

I like this system and I've enjoyed coming up with the Master Magics. However, I wanted to give the collective a way to play with their magic more. My first idea was going to allow them to make a pilgrimage to each of their core's holy sites to get a better understanding of each of their different values and how they can be used together better. Then I realized that "pure" religions could also do this. One of my friends suggested making a language for the magic, like words for shape, element, action, and religious spells are just preset sentences that are passed down due to their usefulness. I really liked that idea but each religion is from a different race that has their own ancestral language so do I go back and make the magic language an ancient language they all had in common at one point, or a totally different language that's like a "language of the gods". I've thought about this for a long time and my brain is just jelly at this point, I've hit a wall so I'm asking for advice or an alternative idea.

Edit when I say language as magic I mean kind of in a Skyrim dragon way I guess is the closest example I can think of. I don't mean just speaking and talking about fire makes fire. As for the church of the collective, they can only do three core values, so they aren't power grabbers and try to master every magic there is. They can study all the magics and religious history, but the god only lets them pick three core values to embody and practice to produce spells. I did find a good example of the shape element and action. Sword Art Online: Alicization had something close, it was basically using the games source code to program a function stating the size element and action of a magic object. like the spell fireball would be Fire Sphere Propell. Also, the gods are purposely ambiguous to make things easier on myself. Whether they are just stories made up to explain how the first magic users symbolically discovered how to use magic. If they actually gifted the ability magic to their followers. Or if they didn't exist, but then were manifested by the belief in them over time due to the magic. Magic is why this world exists its part of the physical planet, but somewhere along the way, humans learned how to use it to benefit them, and then found a way to make it easier through the gods whether it was just stories or gifts or beliefs that magic itself adopted from the widespread use of that idea. I think this is more realistic since there's that same debate about our own gods within our world. And for the church of the collective just believes all of these gods are real, kind of like modern pagans or witches, not 100% sure if they are still the same thing, but they believe all deities are real, and "work" with the ones that reach out to them, and some believe that you should stick to one branch of deities such as Norse or Greek gods, and others believe you should work with one type of deities like sun gods and goddesses of water gods and so forth. Its also slightly similar to Shinto where everything has a spirit or god and they should all be respected, as to how the gods would benefit from this rather than getting jealous, they would still have that person believing and respecting them, giving them power. someone's belief in something cannot be divided, you believe or you don't, being skeptical of something is still a sliver of belief and gives it power. so I don't think the collective is at all unrealistic and I've made it in a justified way that doesn't allow for god-like magic users to master every single core value, as some definite don't mesh together. You cant believe in healing the world and making it free of suffering while also believing in brute force and conquering your enemies. you can't believe music and sound is essential to life while also believing silence is the best way to solve a conflict. these cores have to understood and made a part of that person's soul and moral code in order to use it, being a part of the collective just means you think all of those values are valid and you can choose the values that best suit you.

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    $\begingroup$ First of all, HOLY CRAP THAT WALL OF TEXT. Second of all, what is to say that a Core of the collective couldn't be "Flexibility" and still want to combine the magic of all other religions? Basically, saying that "allowing you to use different spells for worshiping multiple deities" for the collective and then limiting them to Core's still is kind of against itself. The common Sanderson Tradeoff here would be that the collective is more broad but less powerful contrasting it to classic religions of narrow and strong. $\endgroup$ – IT Alex Aug 26 at 17:35
  • $\begingroup$ @ITAlex I don't think it goes against itself, you can belive all gods exist without worshipping them all, you just respect them and acknowledge their existence. this happens in real life with modern witches $\endgroup$ – Game Master Aug 27 at 23:02
  • $\begingroup$ what does that GAIN anyone though? if the collective is limited to just the three cores like every other faction and not " allowing you to use different spells for worshiping multiple deities".... No one would give up Lightning MKIII to join the collective and cast Baby Factions First Magic Missile MKI. Additionally, people who believe in a religion don't just up and change beliefs easily even if they are accepting of others. $\endgroup$ – IT Alex Aug 28 at 12:23
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You want languages, but you don't want language

Let's get something out of the way first. You really don't want a written (from the point of view of you, the author) language. You really don't want your readers reading along and suddenly encountering "B'clakk ug ug ug NOOObah chaKn,de'tOO!" A lot of us grew up reading Tolkien and thought the extra languages added a lot to the story. Don't get me wrong... they did! But Tolkien was a linguist — and what he did was sit down and construct fundamentally full languages (syntactically and lexically). Unless you're planning to put this writing project off until after you've obtained at least one degree in philology, the effort will be massive with minimal results.1

But you can achieve what Tolkien did simply by relying on your reader's imagination!

The power of each god is based on the expression of their nature

Simply put, the dog people sound uncannily like dogs when they cast spells. You want a bit more sophistication than that, but that's the gist. I agree with @DWKraus completely when he/she says...

There is a school of thought that language shapes thoughts.

But who says that language must be expressed with conceptually intelligible words? Language is simply a construction of sounds that follow established patterns to (and here's the kicker) evoke a response. The best examples of this are poetry and music, which are frequently intended to evoke an emotional response much more than an intellectual response.

But this is magic. You want both. But you don't want to bore your reader with long strings of nonsensical letters (because that's all you have to work with!) to get that point across. Only use words when you need to create a chain of thought that you're going to use multiple times (such as spell names).

Borath, Elevated Parson of the Great Dog God, began the rite of Growdwn with the low, guttural hum his acolytes had come to cherish as the merging of thought and power. His hymn rose in volume as the deep-throated cadence of the Longshore Wolf began to weave through their own thoughts, drawing them into the spell's coven. Sharp barks, echoing off the canyon wall began to instill images of the chase and the love of wind and moonlight. The acolytes began their descant — the pack following the bravery of the mightiest among them. The rhythm pulsed with blood as the sight of all focused on the rite's prey....

In that entire narrative, I introduced a single word: Growdwn. Everything else is left to the reader. And if I did my job well, the reader becomes caught up emotionally in the moment rather than intellectually, as they must do to read unfamiliar words. But in balance, the reader is also caught up with a sense of complexity, the feeling that there's a pattern underlying the text that if they could just get ten minutes of your time at ComiCon they could force you to admit its existence and reveal the details.2

This also frees you to be much more creative with the expression of each god's magic. Rather than using the traditional hissing for the lizard folk, consider the "language" to be "sign language," the motion of the body — a dance reminiscent of the motion of all the herpein breeds — and just as emotionally evocative.

Finally, the unified church must be both stronger and weaker, or your system is unbalanced

Ask yourself (I'm sure you already have), what the Church of the Collective Union is good for? From the point of view of mere mortals, it may be an act of diplomacy or simply that some people didn't want to be bound to a single god and needed some way to spread the joy without having to be all day about it. But what purpose would it serve for the gods, themselves? I must assume they're not jealous, losing dedicated believers to be shared with the other gods. So what's in it for them? Why allow the Church at all?

What problem is solved that cannot be individually in the other Churches?

OK, so I need to leave that to you: but the point is, whatever that specific goal or problem is, it defines what the Church practitioners can and cannot do. They may utilize elements of the magical expressions of all five gods — but they cannot achieve the magic of those individual schools at all. (And you really want that — otherwise everyone would be Church members, it being all-powerful, dontchaknow).

But in that one thing, the Church alone is able to achieve mastery. Let's be banal for the sake of example and suggest that Terry Pratchett's Dungeon Dimensions, alternate realities that be filled with monsters, are a part of your universe. But no single god (or his/her magic) is capable of dealing with them! In this case, Church practitioners are uniquely suited to the magic of invoking, controlling, and dispatching, said monsters.

And that is the one and only thing they're good at — and each individual god's magic is useless for it. The individual magics serve different (and separate) purposes.

Which means there's a sixth "language expression," one unusable by the five gods' practitioners individually, that is unique to Church members. In my example, it has to do with monster-filled alternate dimensions.

It might be a language that expresses fear.


1This is really important. I don't want to downplay anybody's creative efforts, but I was a micropublisher for 10 years and reviewed thousands of manuscripts. Frankly, people kinda think that what Tolkien did was easy... No it wasn't. In fact, if I remember correctly, he spent years developing the languages in conjunction with an elaborate backstory, just to write The Hobbit, which was the story he wrote so he could write what he actually wanted to write, The Lord of the Rings. His effort cannot be duplicated in less time, and it's quite obvious when an amateur strings together a quick knock-together language and thinks they did what Tolkien did. Honestly, and with all the love in the world... if you're not going to invest the time Tolkien did to achieve what Tolkien did, don't even try. Work around it and focus on your own strengths.

2This behavior is very well known in the world of fiction. So much so that it was lampooned in the movie Galaxy Quest. A group of kids make multiple efforts to approach Captain Peter Quincy Taggart, played by Jason Nesmith, played by Tim Allen (you gotta love that...) about how some aspect of the space ship couldn't possibly be real and how that should be resolved when Nesmith looses his cool and shouts, "There IS no quantum flux and there IS no auxiliary... There's no goddamn ship! You got it?" I'm sure there's a never-ending line of Star Trek fans who wanted details that never existed in the first place because they believed the only way to get that kind of an imaginative response was to have those details — and the actors and producers were just being mean by not sharing.

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Music is the first language.

Before there were words there were songs. Before there was language there was music. Listen to a language you do not know, and with the words meaningless, you can appreciate the song that is the skeleton of an utterance. You don't understand the words, but you can hear the music.

The Universalists realize this. Magic is older than language because magic comes from music. When they wound together the religions they knew, and some they didn't, they went back to music and rhythm to do it.

It is possible to make music that is larger than any song. It is possible to make complex amazing music with hundreds of voices. Hundreds of voices speaking would be gibberish. The strength of the universalists is the ability of their magic to unify many disparate voices in a common union of music. This is seriously big magic.

It might be going on all the time. All around us.

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Wrong Premise:

Yes, language is tied to magic. Your goal is to make the universal magic system more flexible than the others, but you are also wanting to make your individual magic systems special. So what do you do?

There is a school of thought that language shapes thoughts, and without a word for (for example) blue, people don't see blue the same. Greek literature has an example of this in blue. Old Greek texts have no word for blue, and the sea is seen as green, the sky as grey.

Your universal magic system has distinct advantages, but the native languages of the three peoples shape their thoughts and give them special relations with their chosen abilities. A lizard man (reptoid) trying to use dogman (cynocephali) magic in the universal system is hindered in how far he can go. His brain doesn't fully conceptualize the magic. Similarly, a cynocephali - speaking dog man trying to do reptoid magic sees the world differently and struggles to do the right magic.

You can have a universal god language, allowing access to all magics. But each race will work better with their own abilities. That wasn't exactly what you wanted, so here's the catch: Those that learn all the other's languages and can THINK in those languages is able to use all abilities. This makes mastering universal a much more challenging task, as you need to be a little of each race in your own head, code-switching between languages as you go.

A master universalist must understand the language and culture of ALL races to truly master their magic. Scholars CAN do anything with universal, but the balancing act is, you hardly need to do anything to be good at your own race magic. Linguists are the greatest mages, and immersing yourself in an unfamiliar culture makes you more powerful (those pilgrimages are more about linguistics than holiness).

Thus universalists empathize and study, instead of crushing all with their "greater" power.

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Barking up the wrong tree

Magic granted by the gods and the aptitude of the person are not always the same. Most of your dogfolk might have the Moon/Conjure/Illusions aptitude which is great for their tribe and their worship. If one of them has Conjure/Illusion/Wind as their personal core they might never really advance beyond simple moon spells.

Joining the collective is about self-discovery and learning the basics. The aforementioned dogfolk might be able to learn about more cores and after finding some basic magics from other factions that are useful in conjure/illusion (maybe basic light/dark magic to go with illusions or basic enhancement magic for strengthening conjure) finds wind and easily takes to it.

Staying with your tribe means that you can grow incredibly powerful from the old knowledge but, only in the tribes cores. Travelling to the Collective allows you to trade your tribes knowledge and discover your cores. In terms of power, Tribal Core > Personal outside-tribe Core > non-tribal, non-personal Core. Language doesn't need to be the definitive value but could be a part of what makes a particular tribal core stronger like @JBH mentioned in his answer.

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I would suggest the following.

First I won't try to make a language of the gods nor connect language to magic.

Why?

Because languages are a real world thing with obvious history and aspects to be studied, like grammar, while magic is not.

We have zero idea of the changes that happens to language when you connect to a magic system.

For example lets assume that Latin is the language for magic. But what Latin?

Latin changed and evolved overtime. Lexicon, syntax, morphology...etc.

So at what point does X refer to fire while the fact that X referred to something else in the beginning.

This also does include metaphorical usages or words with more than one meaning.

Ah but you might counter that by saying: No. It's a set language with little changes and it's made in stone.

This can actually work provided that you do make a sort of god or something to create the language and pass it down to people in that form.

With the fact that if you failed to produce the correct sentence or word then the wanted spell won't happen.

This will make the language like 100% stable, for magical usages actually, but you have to understand all that.

This probably will have many side effects such as people developing a different version of the language to communicate without summoning demons or burnings down their house.

Like the angels say that if you say "Djeb " the right way then a fire appears. So people are like ok. "Bejd" is fire. WTH!

Well. It makes sense that if you provide people with a language that is magical for them to use a slightly altered version to communicate.

Perhaps the different languages in your world are a result of the different races changing things to communicate without magic.

Does that sound natural?

The problem is in other things.

For example "Djeb" is fire. OK can I say not Djeb and conjure some water? What about 2 Djeb is it double the fire?

Those are all problems that happen once you decide that the language is connected to magic.

However in something like Harry Potter they were nonsensical words that just caused the wanted effect. So pointing a wand and saying die really hard does not mean people die. Only the correct spell.

And in the Dresden files I think they used it like a focusing point or something. Like saying fire helps to conjure it but if you are strong enough then sure.

But you also have to be careful if you make a truly magical tongue.

So that's why authors use older dead languages or stuff like that.

My solution?

The magical "language" is only a few thousands word to begin with.

And they are the direct results of a few schools, or whatever, of magic

So it's like martial arts or music.

They represent the thought process or the method of handling magic in the world as put down by those schools.

So school Magnar uses a system of short letters to teach students to learn magic. This means that students are fast but maybe they magic is short lived.

The Derna school on the other hand only uses long words and as a result not as fast but last longer.

My final solutions. You can simply have the magical tongues the result of the early masters of magic using their own unique words to teach their students.

So you get a magical school of nonsensical German words because their master was German and he started the study and those who want to study magic follow him.

Then another one from China and an Arabic one and a Russian one and so on.

So the Spanish wizard figured out he can conjure fire, then decided to put down a magical method of producing fire and locking away the magical fire beyond a door with the key being the word fuego.

This allows you to play around with words as much as you like and add a bit of cultural flavor to the magic and the schools.

However much of this supposes that a lot of this is based on the fact that magic is both a magical thing but also a thing that has to be uttered.

I mean you did not set in stone the oedijho means cloud so we are trying to figure out the system from the grounds up.

If you can actually practice magic without an words then obviously the speed of thought is better also this gives that ability for non talking people to practice magic and also also makes it that spells that prevent you from talking won't work.

But that's out of context here.

However I'm willing to explore it more if you actually explain the magic and where it comes from. Because like I said people would prefer to practice without words at all.

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    $\begingroup$ The energy of the magic comes from the planet itself, it's the core of the planet rather than a molten core. The Gods gifted the ability to harness it. It's ambiguous if the gods really exist, or if they were created through stories to explain being able to harness the magic , or if they manifested for real after the stories because of the magic, but they are still tied to using it $\endgroup$ – Game Master Aug 25 at 3:45
  • $\begingroup$ The reason I want it to be a language of some sort is because this will be a game system for players to use, and I don't want them to easily understand it. I want them to naturally see the patterns within premade taught spells and experiment with it. They can't really do that with the native languages, so I'm trying to figure out an alternative that still let's them play with creating their own spells within that language $\endgroup$ – Game Master Aug 25 at 3:48
  • $\begingroup$ @GameMaster, Already covered it. The way to harness it and study was paved by a few scholar who happened to belong to different languages so each decided to encode that path of the whatever in his own tongue but with a twist as he does not want to be reading an article and boom the sky is raining blood. Like how Latin and medicine. Like I would use a prefix to certain words to donate magical meaning. So a non English speaker sees mag-fire as a gibberish spell but I based it off English. And because school they will be forced to approach magic within the bounds of that language. $\endgroup$ – Seallussus Aug 25 at 4:01
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As some of the other answers have already suggested, having an interplay between, but a barrier to the 'crossover' potential in your magic systems seems like a good place to start.

It actually reminds me quite a lot of the bending systems from Avatar: The Last Airbender, now that I think about it. If each race has their own particular variety of magic, and it's tied to their language (and, ostensibly, their geographical location and cultural identity on a more spiritual level), then it would be impossible for a genuine crossover to occur: A dogfolk could literally never use the lizardfolk's magic. In A:tlA, this is due to an unexplained innate trait found in each nation, but for different species of humanoids it could be literal and physiological: A lizardman lacks the type of vocal chords that allow a dogman to growl in the back of his throat, and a dogman is similarly incapable of producing the sussurous hissing of the lizardfolk's language. Any attempt to utilize the other species' language will be broken and half-formed at best.

However, in A:tlA, the technique of firebenders using lightning is made possible by mimicking the mentality, motions, and meditations of waterbenders. It does not allow the firebender to suddenly use waterbending, but it makes them able to utilize firebending in a way they never could otherwise.

I'd say looking for a core value, as opposed to the physical manifestation of the abilities, is going to give you more fertile ground for interplay between the cultures: Yes, the lizardfolk can give themselves physical buffs and super strength, but **why** they prioritize doing so is a much more interesting question. Is it because they value individualistic freedom and power for its own sake? is it due to a harsh environment instilling a darwinian 'might makes right' philosophy into their culture? or is it because they believe in self-sacrifice and seeking power in order to protect others?

Any of the above philosophies standing at the center of their powers makes it much easier to play off of the others involved: A member of the dogfolk may never be capable of utilizing the lizardfolk's magic, but applying the firm, unyielding dedication to personal growth and strength to their own magic, which is perhaps traditionally focused on balance and unity with the world around you, may allow said dogfolk to use their magic in atypical and unique ways, much like applying the principles of waterbending to firebending allows for use of an entirely new technique.

Because of all I just said, I'd definitely avoid pulling a 'language of the gods' outright.

It could be entirely possible that a newer development in your world is the discovery of just such a language: archaeologists or arcane researchers have only recently discovered a few words in ancient ruins that allow any race to cast the spell it describes regardless of their usual restrictions. I don't think making this knowledge complete or ubiquitous would serve your story, but could allow for some points of crossover (and hell, possibly even allow for an entire plot thread unto itself) if you wanted to go that route.

I also think the Church of the Collective Union could still work, or perhaps even work better, with these limitations: the members are incapable of **truly** adopting a different magic system than the one they're born with, but they would actively seek out new avenues of understanding by studying other cultures and practicing their customs. A dogfolk who has trained more under the lizardfolk's philosophy and thus uses the dogfolk's traditionally calm, ritualistic, and passive magic system to unexpected effect in combat as a totally unique form of martial arts could be a lot of fun to explore. The opposite where a lizardman uses the usually brutal, blunt, practical act of shaping and manipulating metal to instead create fluid, beautiful, intricate sculptures that invoke the ancient spirits that the dogfolk worship could also happen, and any other combination based on the races you want to include (obviously, I'm just using the dogfolk and lizardfolk as those are the ones you described in the original answer).

All in all, I think the most important thing to remember here is Sanderson's third law: Limitations > Powers. Focus on what your magic system **can't** do more than what it **can**, and use those limits to your advantage in order to give your characters something more meaningful to overcome.

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Depending on how much religion matters to magic in your world...

The belief in the gods could force the world to make a magic to suit that god, which may or may not exist, but the belief in it makes the magic usable.

And part of that belief is that language matters?

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  • $\begingroup$ I mostly want it to be language-based so players can experiment to make their own spells, while also not discrediting the god. Like having a foreign or ancient language to find patterns within. like words for Sphere Fire Propell for fireball, and maybe have words like tiny small medium large giant to determine strength. I had originally had the spells in the native language of the religion but now I'm hitting a roadblock that makes that impractical for players choosing to follow multiple gods and core values. $\endgroup$ – Game Master Aug 25 at 22:28
  • $\begingroup$ It's purposely ambiguous if the gods actually exist, or if they were created through stories to explain being able to harness the magic, or if they manifested for real after the stories because of the magic, but they are still tied to using it $\endgroup$ – Game Master Aug 25 at 22:28
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Making a new answer for a new answer.

Are all languages magical, or just some?

If it's only the old dead ones, maybe there's something about being old, and / or dead...

And / or having its native users be dead... or having no living natives and all that death energy is powering the language.

So maybe casting spells is draining energy from a finite and at some point, the most widely used languages stop being magic.

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The Language

The Church of the Collective embraces all. This would lead to indicate that this church's magic should be more general. Even if a person can only have three values that define their magic, few in the Church of the Collective will have taken the time to truly master any one facet of magic.

Alternative, there might be people that master single core values to the exclusion of all else, holding up a single value for the Church with acolytes studying under any three masters to gain their core values.

The language of their magic is, while not simpler, older. But in contrast, it can do everything at competently.

Compare this to the individual religions: To use your example, the Lizardfolk hone their focus on three things in particular -- Steel, Power, and Fire. Because they study these three things to basically the exclusion of all else, their magic language has more precise and better words for the magics involving these three aspects than the Church does. So much so, that by mastering the three pillars of the magic, they combine to form a Firearm word -- something the Church's older language has no word for.

To use a comparison, the Church's magic language is Latin while the individual religions are the romance languages that have derived from the original Latin. Perhaps not the best comparison, but I feel it apt.

Another potential comparison is professional jargon. By specializing in something, you learn all the jargon and technical words that describe things better than just the core language. In this case, it is additions to the base language over time as opposed to an evolution in the magic language.

Collective Benefits

The first primary benefit of the Collective is that they will be able (in theory) to combine the knowledge of any two (or three) core values into something a bit better. Lizardfolk might be the masters at Power, but in theory if somebody has Earth and Power, they might be able to empower the earth for fertility or something to that nature.

The Lizardfolk cannot do that within themselves -- they only have Power. The religion that holds Earth may not be able to do it either if they don't hold Power. They might be able to do a lesser version of these by using one value, but only by combing the values do you get the best result.

The second benefit is the breadth of knowledge. I suspect that most religion will be fairly set in their ways -- they know their values and can get the best out of them. But the Church will have people that have been out there and learned from multiple people. This will almost certainly give people ideas outside the established teachings of the pure religions. Not 100% true, but a fair generality I think.

Bakuhaku brought up Avatar and Iroh, and that works beautifully -- by studying Water, Iroh developed a Fire technique for redirecting lightning. Similar things apply with the values.

Religion Benefits

So why only study one religion and it's defined three values then? Well, there is that sweet fourth value that is likely the religions secret skillset. Firearms do sound awesome.

There is also the premise of specialization. Lizardfolk are the consummate experts in Fire. Anybody with a Fire value can chuck a basic fireball, but a Lizardfolk has such control over it that they can make Fire do things that other folk just can't do. This extends to professions and other aspects of life where fire plays a strong role -- smithing and cooking for two, potions if they require heat too.

Again using Avatar, there are advanced bending techniques in the four disciplines. Fire has Lightning (by heating the air enough), Earth has Metal (finding the impurities in it) to name two.

Final Fantasy shows at least with the Red Mage versus the White or Black Mage. The Red Mage is a generalist with a couple of unique tricks while the White/Black Mages are specialists in their field.

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