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Recently, I was going through the magical materials that existed in one of my fantasy settings. It was all going swimmingly, when a thought occurred to me: "You know, I should figure out how chemistry works with these things". I have been tortured and racked ever since trying to get something respectable to work, but I think I have the start of a solution:

I should invent an additional periodic table.

Even leaving aside the patachemistry, I know it's a laughable amount of work. But that leads us to my question:

What principles should I keep in mind during my project?

I'm not trying to invent new materials that could actually exist on the real periodic table; I know that trying to squeeze more elements onto it is impossible, so I've handwaved it and said "magic can be used to ascend ordinary elements onto this new table". The new elements don't use the same protons or neutrons as the originals, so I think that covers their "being able to exist". The problem comes from wanting to be unique. I do not want to have a one-to-one correspondence between the actual periodic table and my creation. That means that not only are there real elements that can't be ascended, there are ascended elements that can't be created (ignoring for now how they come into being). I could even change the shape of the table as I see fit.

I don't have too many pata-elements invented yet, and I would like to know how to stitch my new periodic table together so that it looks authentic. I want to know what I should keep in mind with periods and columns, for example, or where I could place liquids. How do I decide what everything should weigh, where should the gases go, things like that.

In short, what principles should I keep in mind while designing a pataphysical periodic table?

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    $\begingroup$ You can choose to follow whatever principals you want to organize your magical materials. Obviously they need to have some sort of periodic structure or else calling a table of them periodic is a misnomer. That being said people often misuse periodic table to not refer to a periodic arrangement of elements but to refer to some sort of arbitrary alternative chemistry. Questions where the answer is entirely up to the worldbuilder's discretion such as this are not a good fit for this site. What structure makes sense for the magical materials you have in your world? $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented May 31, 2022 at 1:34
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    $\begingroup$ You said you've put a few magical elements onto your chart as well. That's good! We don't necessarily need to know the details on the elements, but it would help to know what categories you put them into. The real world periodic table is useful because it categorizes things... did you already do so? What categories did you create? $\endgroup$ Commented May 31, 2022 at 6:05
  • $\begingroup$ If you value mystique over scientific accuracy you could give your table a more interesting shape. Why not a number of concentric pentagons? A pyramid? A spiral? A pentagram where each leg is one of the 5 main elements and the middle group contains many special extra cool elements which are not often found in nature (like the lanthanides/actinides of our periodic table) $\endgroup$ Commented May 31, 2022 at 13:51
  • $\begingroup$ I guess you'd have to make it matter. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Commented Jun 1, 2022 at 4:02
  • $\begingroup$ "I know that trying to squeeze more elements onto it is impossible". Why not make your new elements part of one of the proposed 'island of stability' at high element numbers? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Or: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extended_periodic_table $\endgroup$
    – KarlKastor
    Commented Jun 1, 2022 at 14:43

14 Answers 14

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I have no idea what pataphysical or patachemistry mean, but when it comes to developing the magical version of the Periodic Table of Elements, I recommend you do the following.

  1. Ignore atomic weights, electrons, protons, and neutrons completely. You can't crowbar magic into science in that way and you'll give yourself cancer trying.

  2. Remember that the Periodic Table is called that because the behavior of the elements is periodic. Generally speaking, everything in a column has similar attributes. Everything in a row has similar attributes. You'll organize (group) your magical chemicals according to their similar (periodic) attributes.

  3. You need to choose what those similar attributes are. I'll be honest with you, asking us to help you with that aspect of this project would require you to do so much work identifying the various properties of the magical materials to avoid question closure that by the time you were done you'd have answered the question yourself.

And I recommend you following an axiom of good engineering:

K.I.S.S — Keep It Simple, Stupid!

  • In real life, what a chemical looks like has nothing to do with its position on the periodic table. In your table, what it looks like (blue vs. red, powder vs. liquid) might make more sense.

  • How the chemicals react to something common, like water, would help you group them.

  • What aspect of magic the chemical is used for would be a natural grouping. Does your magic system use Nature? (earth, wind, fire, water, etc.) or a type? (healing, death, combat...) Those would be natural groupings.

  • How must the chemicals be stored? In the dark? In the cold? Next to gold? That, too, would be a natural grouping.

Hopefully this helps you get started. The Periodic Table simply groups things in a way that helps people quickly identify the basic nature of a chemical. You're going to do the same thing — just in terms of magic rather than electrons, protons, and neutrons.

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  • $\begingroup$ Pataphysics is a parody of regular physics invented by Ubu's author, Alfred Jarry. You can check the Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%27Pataphysics $\endgroup$
    – joH1
    Commented May 31, 2022 at 12:51
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    $\begingroup$ This is particularly neat because this is how Medvedev built the table originally. Electron orbitals and nuclear weights came later and helped explain the table. $\endgroup$
    – Dancrumb
    Commented May 31, 2022 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ @joH1 Ah-hah. I only did a search for "patachemistry" and when nothing came up I just skipped "pataphysics." Hey Alkamede! It's a really good idea to link oddball/eccentric words like that to a description (or to provide one) so that people like me who haven't read a particular book series don't wonder what on earth you're talking about. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented May 31, 2022 at 16:49
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for the tip, JBH. I'll keep that in mind for the future. For the record, I'd never heard of Alfred Jarry before. I just found "Pataphysics" on merriam-webster and thought it'd be fun to extrapolate it to chemistry. Either way, thanks a lot for the answer! $\endgroup$
    – Alkamede
    Commented May 31, 2022 at 18:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Dancrumb I think you mean Mendeleev, lol $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 1, 2022 at 10:32
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3D Periodic Table of the Elements

Broadly, the Periodic Table of Elements is a series of columns which corresponds to atomic weight and is organised by various properties.

However they all have one thing in common:
Their Magic Number is identical, and so irrelevant normally.

If every atom in existence has the same magic-number, then you have nothing to compare it to and nobody is paying attention to it.

But if someone finds a way to modify that fundamental constant, now you have a new kind of atom. One that shares atomic weight and the other properties of the original atom, but is distinct because it has a different Magic Number.

Abruptly you find that every element you already knew about can take on new properties because there was a whole swathe of behaviour locked away behind that magic number that simply never came up.

You could compare it to the different isotopes of Uranium perhaps.
Or you could call it a measure of how Magical your element is.

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    $\begingroup$ Kind of reminds me of what the complex plane does to numbers. When the imaginary coordinate is 0, you just get ordinary real numbers, but when it goes positive or negative, interesting stuff happens. You could work in what the difference between a positive or negative Magic Number is - Light Magic/Dark Magic maybe? Lots of possibility here. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 1, 2022 at 21:11
  • $\begingroup$ I had a similar thought. Perhaps there are a classes of sub-atomic or force-carrying particles which project into additional dimensions as a source of energy or different behaviour: a proton out of built out of magi-quarks makes the magical version of whatever atom it ends up in? $\endgroup$
    – Beejamin
    Commented Jun 2, 2022 at 5:36
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Nobody has ever asked what the one ring was made of, that could be only smolten in the heat of mount Doom, nor how could mithrill be so sturdy and yet Moria was carved by extracting it, so why nobody did ever think of using the mithrill extractor and so on.

When I read the Miserables I remember I got bored to death by the sections on the battle of Waterloo, and despite being myself a chem junkie, I would dread reading a story that goes so much into details as to give the count of how many patapontiums and spronglons each element has.

Stay high level, describe the materials you have and how they interact with each other without going into the nitty gritty details: we all learn about stone age, bronze age and iron age before having any clue of what nucleons and electrons are and how they mingle into the landscape of the periodic table.

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    $\begingroup$ "Nobody has ever asked what the one ring was made of" I see you don't frequent Tolkien forums! It comes up quite a bit. The answer is that it was pure gold, which Morgoth contaminated more with his spirit than other things. They remark upon it being plain gold at the Council of Elrond. With all that said: You're 100% right, in 99% of legendariums involving magic items no one cares about what material is used and certainly not the internal magic chemistry/ thaumaturgy of the materials in question. Tolkien fans are next level devoted/pathologically obsessed! PS Man oh man those Waterloo bits... $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Commented May 31, 2022 at 8:51
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    $\begingroup$ The portion of Moria that was carved out while mining Mithril was very small in proportion. Mithril was very useful, but was also very, very rare. It was also fairly soft and malleable in its pure form and only when alloyed was it useful as lightweight, hard, and durable armor (and likely weapons, though I don't recall any specific weapon being described as being made from it). Assumedly, mining tools could have been made from it, but the cost would very likely exceed the usefulness. $\endgroup$ Commented May 31, 2022 at 14:00
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    $\begingroup$ Midichlorians. Need we say more? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 2, 2022 at 14:54
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I think you want simplicity, you also don't want too many magical elements (who the hell will remember more than like, 7?). So you don't want too many.

I also think your periodic table would do better to draw from ancient elemental theories, not modern chemistry. These, conveniently, had far fewer elements. Some images to whet the appetite will follow.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wuxing_(Chinese_philosophy)#/media/File:FiveElementsCycleBalanceImbalance_02_plain.svg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wuxing_(Chinese_philosophy)#/media/File:FiveElementsCycleBalanceImbalance_02_plain.svg

enter image description here

You can imagine putting together a similar kind of system with the magical elements that exist in your setting. Here is my quick and dirty example:

Lightning - Unstopable.

Liftstone - Immovable. Holds the world aloft. Formations in the sky can serve as platforms for aerial forts.

Mythril - strong, light

Sparkflint - incredibly sharp.

Whenever two consecutive elements in the cycle touch they combine to make the next on the list. So when lighting strikes liftstone it turns to Mythril. Stabbing a Mythril blade into liftstone makes them congeal into a shard of Sparkflint. Chipping a Mythril hammer against a sparkflint produces bolts of lightning (a common weapon).

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Prime factorisation

How about taking integers (or even just primes) and assigning some sort of magic property to each? So e.g. 3 = transformability and 7 = fire

Every number has a prime factorisation, i.e. can be made by multiplying primes, or is itself a prime. 36 = 4 * 9 = 2 * 2 × 3 * 2.

If the atomic weight of an element has a factorisation with a prime factor, it has that factor's property. If it has lots of a prime factor then it has that property strongly. So pure Aluminium, with atomic weight mostly 27 = 3 * 3 * 3 = 3^3 is AMAZING for magical transformation (but probably unexceptional for any other type of magic.)

The nice things about this is:

  1. If you allow ions and molecules to take on new magical properties from their total weight, then you get magical transformations that piggyback on known chemical reactions.

  2. It's predictive and pretty easy to work out what will have what properties. A spreadsheet could spit out the magical properties of most chemical species.

  3. The people in your stories can have as good or as bad an idea of the magic rules as you desire depending on their knowledge of a) chemistry, b) magic chemistry rules.

  4. You can make house rules. Do ions count as integrated units, or as sums of their component elements, or both? Are there oddball exceptions?

  5. You can assign arbitrary one off properties to non prime numbers to achieve things ad hoc.

  6. It's SE Worldbuilding original. Unless by some miracle someone else has had the same idea, there's no copyright. Tweak it so you can have yours, though.

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  • $\begingroup$ Just ran across this: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/143606/…. That Sanderson's first law essay is great. It suggests that the less detailed your magic system, the more you can get away with...except sheer quantity of magic use. Having lots of rules is good if and only if you plan to use it in the plot a LOT. He makes a compelling case. $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Commented May 31, 2022 at 9:45
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D&D Was never mentioned in the OP but when I ran my own world, I attempted to codify how magic worked. Use or adapt as however you see fit.

D&D used a form of alchemy I guess. Earth Air Fire Water. Plus Positive/Negative-Material. Each of these elements have their one plain/dimension where they exist in their pure forms. Also para-elemental planes where they exists in their impure forms. ex: in an overlapping circle diagram where air and water meet, this would be para-elemental mist. elemental plains

The Positive and Negative Material Plane (PMT & NMP) is more or less Life/Death Good/Evil etc. Your alignment / disposition in life determines your interactions with these. As far as magical effects most can use either PMT OR NMT energy to achieve the desired effects, most often some of both. Healing or necromantic effects which should be evident. This PMP/NMP energy is used in as the "carrier wave" for all magic and the vast majority of the spells expended energy. A tiny amount is extracted from the caster and whatever components they sacrifice. And some is refunded to the caster as the spell compleets. Though still the user is drained, this drain is mitigated with age and experience. If all the energy needed to cast a even a simple spell were directly extracted even from the most accomplished mage, they would be reduced to a desiccated, crumbling, cold, dry husk.

What I did was assigned a rune to each plain / para-plane, and rune for unit of time, and a rune for 3 units of quantity/volume/mass. How these runes were combined defined the effects of the spell. That would be 32 elemental 2 material, and 4 more for measurements.

You could assign the elemental runes a numerical value. Even for positive traits odd for negative. Or any number of ways. The system, was given as a neutral view of a balanced magic ecosystem. Building outward on the positive and negative at the center. I can't imagine it being a periodic table such as we have but certainly could imagine it built out in some balance representative form.

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Magitons: Magical Nuclear Particle : Not necessarily Magical, you can have any fictional particle in your nucleus. If they are magical, they give them magical properties or make them able to affected with magic while normal materials are immune to magic.

So you can have entirety separate periodic table of Magical variants of normal elements. Titanium + Magitons = Adamantite. Silver + Magitons = Mythril etc etc. Even magical isotopes, Adamantite with 21 Magitons vs 23 Magitons.

You essentially give properties to any element, transparent metal etc. You can also alloy them with other Magitons elements or with normal elements.Fuels with Magiton elements as components can have higher yields. Possibilities are endless

Just make sure mass of these magitons is much lower than protons, or they are very less (only 1-6 in any atom at max). Otherwise, atomic mass of your element will rapidly and your elements could run risk of nuclear instability and radioactivity as early as Silver or Barium

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    $\begingroup$ +1 Though, the "low mass" of magitons isn't strictly necessary. All OP needs is for the magiton version of the "Nuclear drip line" to follow the general rule of "+0 magitons is usually most stable" and then carve out exceptions for specific magitopes. $\endgroup$
    – DotCounter
    Commented Jun 1, 2022 at 18:21
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Fill the Gaps

enter image description here

Your new magical elements should go in the intersections of the real periodic table.

Not sure what this positioning represents about the properties of the elements. But you don't tell us anything about the properties to begin with.

All you say is your are designing a periodic table. The most important thing is it resembles the existing one. The best way to do this is attach it to the existing one.

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  • $\begingroup$ xkcd's take. “Most chemists thought the lanthanides and actinides could be inserted in the sixth and seventh rows, but no, they're just floating down at the bottom with lots more undiscovered elements all around them.” $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented May 31, 2022 at 16:23
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Is your magic incantation based? If so, then the magical properties of otherwise mundane elements are based on their true names (in Latin, or whatever language your story is set in). Gematria is a well established, proven by the occult history way of attaching numerical values to words - and your magical properties will be tied to those numbers (if you want to keep the periodical table spirit, make the magical properties periodical with the period let's say 7, or several overlapping periods governing different aspects).

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The periodic table could be extended into the third dimension so that subsequent layers into the page represent increasingly magical elements that share relationships with the conventional elements. Sort of like how elements get more noble as you move from left to right.

Doesn't necessarily need to be Euclidean either as it extends into the page (an element could perhaps be adjacent to multiple elements in the ajoining layers without being right next to them. That would reduce the number of elements. Or you could just have a lot of gaps in your table that are undiscovered.

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I would suggest first taking a good look at some existing alternative periodic tables: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternative_periodic_tables

Theodor Benfey's version has a certain aesthetic appeal to me, as though it could sprout another lobe at any time.

On the other hand, Charles Janet's left-step periodic table seems to imply to my eye a lot of 'empty space' just begging to be filled up with something impossible.

Any of the radial ones should be just fine, I would think.

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The thing about the periodic table of elements is that it sequentially covers all the possible ways that sub-atomic molecules can be joined together - so the shape of the periodic table of elements was known before most of the elements were verified to exist.

As has been mentioned prior, you cant out-science science so don't bother trying to justify the layout of your para-elemental table against protons and electrons (there is no space for that). My recommendation to the previous posts would be to make up 1 or 2 additional sub-atomic particles as a way to have another para table intersect the periodic table.

Protons and electrons have opposite charge and repulse each other? Well Gooftons are charged particles which are attracted to both Protons and electrons - kablaam, entire new intersection of the periodic table depending on the number of Goofton's attatched to a given atom.

Otherwise add variant neutrons which replace the regular ones in the atoms core which have strange effects like slowing the speed at which electrons spin around the nucleus or cause protons to hover slightly further away from each other.

Tldr, go look up some properties and relationships of atoms/ sub-atomic particles and state which ones your para-particles affect at the small scale - but dont bother justifying how that results in specific behaviour at the macro-scale.

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Magic systems often rely on a cruder sense of materials than atomic elements. I think you may be getting stuck on the idea that magical elements need to somehow correspond with physical elements.

Instead of that, magical elements are orthogonal to physical elements and interact with matter depending on certain attributes of their molecular structures. These attributes could be things such as purity, resistance to oxidation, crystalline structure, charge polarity, electrical conductivity, thermal conductivity, heat capacity, state of matter, etc... For instance:

  • The more regular a crystal structure is, the better it can be imbued with a particular magical element
  • Materials with higher elemental purity and resistance to oxidation (e.g. gold) are able to quickly conduct the movement of some set of magical elements.
  • Polar materials like water attract and repel certain pata-elements whereas nonpolar materials do the opposite.
  • Pata-elements attracted to liquids are repelled by gases and conducted by solids. This could be used to create gradients of magic that could be used do do work, much like electricity (perhaps electricity is, itself, a pata-element)
  • Noble gases attract the pure and neutral element, aether, and repel all others.

In addition, when magical elements react with one another, it transforms into a different element rather than forming a magical compound. For instance, if a pata-atom of electricity collides with a pata-atom of anima, you get two pata-atoms of phlogiston. Aether does not react with anything.

I very much agree with other answers that suggest a radial layout of an elemental table. Cycles and circles just feel naturally magical and appropriate for this system. The angular position might correspond with how the element interacts with different structures of matter, while the proximity to the center relates to material purity, with the center being the neutral aether. You could even have a little fun with traditionally magical numbers. Perhaps there are 3 elements in the inner ring, 7 elements in the middle ring, and 13 elements in the outer ring. Prime numbers make this interesting and perhaps a little awkward, but it helps to make it feel magical and mysterious.

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Strangelets.

A strangelet is a hypothetical particle with up, down, and strange quarks. It works sort of like a proton or nucleon, though there are wild and unbelievable stories about it taking over the entire universe in a chain reaction. It also could be a sort of dark matter. Because we're looking to justify magic here, and I don't know much about the exotic particles that exist let alone the ones that don't, I'm not going to try to peer through the haze here, but if you're up for it there is much to research. Let's cut to the chase...

We're going to say that:

  • strangelets exist as one single sort of nucleon-like particle, working like a proton or neutron, which can be introduced into existing elements like a neutron to make a "pata"-isotope.
  • strangelets exist only because they are stabilized by the interaction with dark matter, which is a fast-moving "gas" that permeates all of space within a galaxy and makes up most of the mass of the universe, even if in any spot it is not very dense.
  • dark matter actually consists mostly of spaceships, mixed with other remnants of ancient and powerful alien civilizations.
  • the elements you make have a presence that, when suitably dense and organized, can channel energy and coordinate other phenomena from the dark matter part of the cosmos.
  • without some ultra-sophisticated particle accelerator that people try to tell us will destroy the world, you can't make strangelets. Unless you have strangelets. So magic has smouldered on Earth in hidden communities or places that use magic to make magic, and nowhere else.
  • the strangelets might also still decay at some rate, making them slightly radioactive and ensuring that most mundane environments don't have any trace contamination.
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