For my own entertainment, I have been designing how I would hypothetically make a spiritual sequel to Arcanum: of Steamworks and Magic Obscura. It is hypothetical as the work needed to do it right is beyond my abilities and resources but not my imagination. THE major interesting feature of this game was the interplay between magic and technology which are largely mutually exclusive/antagonistic in this world. The flexibility of a mage compared to the difficulty to achieve mastery in any area for a scientist meant that the game was a lot easier for the first group but boring to play multiple times as a mage. I usually write Sci-Fi stories (and do nothing with them) which means I automatically wanted to find a systematic way to handle magic which is significantly different from the original but would solve these issues.

Basic Plan

All magic in this world by my current plan has a color and difficultly. Whether a mage can cast the spell is dependent on his color (no not race) and power. I wanted color to be described by 6 cardinal directions which in the simplest case is an octahedron.

One of my main hopes was that the appearance and interface would change depending on the character's expertise in a given area. It would start and octahedron far any user. As magic developed would become a triakis octahedron. By end game, it would be a constellation, geometric design, flame like fractal, crystal, lightning branching structure, etc. depending on the mage's particular aptitude. This means for a powerful mage, the auras would become the major aesthetic difference from the increasingly detailed gritty, steampunk appearance of the world from the eyes of a scientist.

For magic, the most obvious directions would be fire, earth, water, air, light, and darkness. The point is that a mage could cast pure fire or pure light spells but not pure light and dark spells. Any electric, lava, astral projection, life, or healing spells would be combinations of these. The issue is, I need have appropriate real colors which correlate with each of these. Unfortunately, the colors that first spring to mind are red, brown, blue, light blue, white, and black. These will not work well.

What am I asking for?

I want a (preferably) continuous map of magical abilities that has a superimposable color map. The idea is that from the level/size of the aura and the color of the aura, an experienced oberserver can know which spells (that the observer knows about) the mage can cast. It must be inherently designed such that no mage (no matter how powerful) can become a master of all areas of magic. Spells analogous to those from the original game's colleges (listed below) must have an intuitive place of the map. The map should attempt to distribute these over the map as uniformly as possible so one particular build is not overpowered. The designer is free to add additional (but logical) spells or colleges, break up colleges, or revise them to make this work out better/easier. Ideally colors should aethetically mesh with the type of spell in that area.

  • Air
  • Conveyance (telekinesis, space warping, and teleportation)
  • Divination (detect magic, see contents, identify magic properties)
  • Earth
  • Fire
  • Force (electric, force push, disintegrate opponent)
  • Mental (charm, control will, stun)
  • Meta (magic about magic such as silence or reflect spells)
  • Morph (turning things into other things such as opponents into sheep)
  • Nature
  • Black Necromancy (talk to dead/trap in rotting corpse, raise undead, extract soul to kill)
  • White Necromancy (heal, resurrect, essentially nice versions of necromancy)
  • Phantasm (light based spells such as blinding flashes and illusion casting)
  • Summoning
  • Temporal (time based magic such as slowing enemies while speeding allies up)
  • Water

I have included my best answer thus far but am not satisfied with how certain etherial magics (meta, mental, temporal, conveyance) fit into it. I am also uncomfortable with what type of magic should be purple (or how else to jump between the red and blue without going green). While that answer attempts to address it, I believe that one side of the map is very unbalenced.

  • $\begingroup$ No there are no space turtles in this question. Yes I decided to post it to add more magic questions as this is pretty much the only magic question I've been struggling with. $\endgroup$
    – kaine
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 20:43
  • $\begingroup$ "What am I asking for? ... Please let me know what cardinal magical directions and corresponding colors could work." Doesn't that make this question rather opinion-based? I'm really struggling to see how it is not opinion-based; I would strongly encourage you to edit it to be a little less about peoples' opinions, and a tiny sliver more about facts or at least something that can be argued for or against based on a logical line of reasoning. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 20:46
  • $\begingroup$ It is really speculative because different cultures will give different colours a different meaning. $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 21:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Vincent A good answer might account for that. $\endgroup$
    – Shokhet
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 22:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Shokhet you mean : he can determine the colour of magic depending of the culture? true, but it's pretty vague. $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 22:23

6 Answers 6


This may be a little unconventional, but I propose the following candidates for axes:

  • Normal-Strange How close to natural occurrences is the spell? A flame or a gust of wind are rather ordinary. A floating object, not so much, but still not extreme when knowing magnetism. A walking corpse or a local disturbance in space topology, however... you get the point.

  • Blunt-Intricate How much structure is in the spell, how many constraints on it being correct? Hail, an explosion, or a nova don't call for too much precision. A defensive wall already needs a little more. But resurrection or mind control won't work unless executed with precision.

  • Rash-Calm Is the spell the kind someone would cast in a rage, or after careful consideration? Creative spells tend to go in the "calm" direction, while a curse or a direct attack counts as rash.

I came up with these by brainstorming 16 potential axes and filtering them for applicability to sample spells and correlation. Though I wouldn't claim to have been very thorough with picking candidates. Here's a table with example classifications, in which I split each axis only into the two extremes and a neutral slot. The Rash-Calm axis is the innermost distinction, with rash at the top, neutral in the middle and calm at the bottom.

                Normal             Unusual             Strange
   Blunt        Fire, Hail         Corrode, Swarm      Devouring Darkness
                Wind, Fog          Push, Bend          Alter Gravity
                Rain, Sunshine     Beacon, Eclipse     Aura of Magic
   Structured   Lightning          Mind Stun           Infest/Possess
                Poison             Frighten            Distort Space/Time
                Stone Wall         Thornbush Wall      Skeleton Minion
   Intricate    Disease            Curse               Netherworld Banish
                Identify           Barrier, Enchant    Transform
                Create Item        Hear the Dead       Portal

Swarm would be an insect swarm or such, Aura of Magic an undirected magic buff.

I can't imagine the setting or planned content too well, so the examples might be off. But it seems easier to me to map a new spell to these axes than to axes like "Earth" or "Light".

How to map these to colors would probably depend on the distribution of actual spells. I hope they are fairly close to orthogonal, but that of course depends on the actual spells.

RGB mapping

If those are orthogonal, one could simply map them to RGB. Players will have to decompose colors in any case, so why not make it easy for them? Say, red is rash, green intricate, and blue normal?

Then, black would be calm-blunt-strange, white would be rash-intricate-normal, violet would be blunt-normal, teal would be calm-unusual, yellow would be rash-intricate-strange.

Dynamic visualization

If you are making a game, you're not technically limited to a static color. Instead of trying to get the most out of color space, you could use the fact that the image is not static. How about those axes:

  • Hue Red is blunt, then it goes up the spectrum until violet is maximally intricate
  • Brightness Black is calm and white is the total berserker
  • Noise A uniform color is normal, and flickering spots or color noise indicate strangeness

The noise could be implemented such that, for very bright or dark characters, the noise peaks out in such a way that the hue can still be determined from remaining flickers, even though the color is technically black or white. This would mean that for perfectly "normal" characters that are either perfectly calm or rash types, the intricacy cannot be told.

In a strange way, that's kind of logical. Though, if you don't like this, just limit the brightness range.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I like how different it is. I especially like 3 things: the map seems easy to tie with a character's spirit which is great as an explanation for why magic works. I love the idea of using noise instead of noise as a 3rd axis. Harder to design around but could be visually striking and could possibly leave some contrasting colors free for a legible interface/indicators. Finally, this means a blunt mage would have to play very differently from an intricate one. $\endgroup$
    – kaine
    Commented Nov 8, 2014 at 2:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Seeing your Normal-Strange axis made me think, why not Up-Down, Charm-Strange, and Bottom-Top? $\endgroup$
    – KSmarts
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 17:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Instead of hue-brightness-noise, consider hue-saturation-value $\endgroup$
    – Adeptus
    Commented Mar 18, 2015 at 2:25

If I understand you correctly, each spell sits at a certain point, and the geometric shape represents the set of spells the mage can spell. And each point should have a different colour, representing that point, with inner colours being the mixture of the outer colours. Moreover I'm assuming the following opposite pairs (you only explicitly stated one):

  • light — darkness
  • fire — water
  • earth — air

As you already noticed, black and white are the natural choices for light and darkness. The middle point ("neutral") would be a 50% grey (which actually fits quite well with your suggestion of silver, since silver is nothing but a shining grey).

For the other colours, I'd look at the HSV colour wheel and choose four colours on a square. For example, looking at this image, assuming you choose red for fire, and want fire and water to be antagonists, you'd get cyan for water (which isn't too far from blue), and then have violet and chartreuse green for air and earth, where you still have freedom of which is which.

Actually looking at this colour wheel with HTML names shows that the HTML name for cyan (opposite of red) is "aqua", which actually is what this would result in.

Another starting point could be yellow for earth, which would give blue for air, and leaves rose and spring green for fire and water.

Note that there's relatively little freedom of choice if you want mixed colours to work nicely. As soon as you chose black and white as light and darkness, all other opposite pairs must be opposites on the colour wheel. You might be able to choose two non-orthogonal directions for your colours in the wheel, though.

  • $\begingroup$ You understand what I am asking EXCEPT I don't explicitly state any axes. You are not required to use light/dark if there is somewhere else they can fit in the map. This is pretty much what I was already thinking (almost exactly the same as my answer which means the problems are the same). I can't help but notice that the colors you want ot use from your HTML map are located at roughly 60 degree intervals. If you come up with a better thing for splitting up the wheel, i would be happier. $\endgroup$
    – kaine
    Commented Nov 7, 2014 at 19:47
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know where you get the 60 degrees from, as I always and exclusively selected 90 degrees. Did you notice that I suggested two separate colour sets? $\endgroup$
    – celtschk
    Commented Nov 7, 2014 at 20:27
  • $\begingroup$ I was just noting that in one of the color spaces you provided, your two recommended axes were not perpendicular and meant that might provide a way to improve this answer over the one I had already. FYI I use color spaces daily in my career. My difficulty is with the magic. $\endgroup$
    – kaine
    Commented Nov 7, 2014 at 22:15

An interesting fact based source for these colors would be the psychological primary colors

 Black --  White
 Blue  --  Yellow
 Red   --  Green

What is neat about them is that it is theorized that humans cannot see "RedGreen" or "BlueYellow." This is why its so utterly painful to see badly designed Christmas cards with poorly chosen Red-on-Green color schemes.

I would also highly recommend such a system be dynamic in time, because that's another axis you can use to make powerful magicians create dancing auras. It could also show interesting structures which challenge the "you cannot see both colors" attitude: a highly blue individual who has specks of yellow that dance and sparkle around him, but his body is a deep unmoving unwaivering blue.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Well, wizards (and cats) can see a sort of greenish-purple. $\endgroup$
    – KSmarts
    Commented Feb 6, 2015 at 22:27

My current best direction/color combinations are:

  • earth: yellow (color of sandstone)
  • fire: red (hue 0)
  • ice: blue (color of a deep crack in a glacier)
  • light: white
  • dark: black
  • air: purple
  • balance: silver

The issue is that air would have to be purple. I would try to legitimize this by having pure air also involve pure spiritual or mental spells (like divination) and have those involve the appearance of dark purple runes.

This feels, however, contrived for earth and air. I am worried that having a balanced magic user's aura look silver may be difficult to pull off but if done right could be awesome. Air with a spiritual component may also make the white necromancy/black necromancy dynamic from the original into an awkward position.

Important or worrying combination observations:

  • Lightning which I always thought should be yellow, would be a light magenta.
  • Energy/Force in general is a combination of air and fire
  • Lava is orange
  • Apparently water is a purple blue. This may be the best way to separate it from ice.
  • For Nature to be green, it would be earth and ice.
  • Light/Dark would no longer be as tightly linked with Life and Death as I originally wanted.
  • I don't know what earth spells would work with light and dark off hand to offset the now super magical air. I think I would have to overpower lava and nature.
  • Steam spells don't exist for good reason (steam should be considered tech)
  • Teleportation (Conveyance), unlock can trap, time magic (temporal), meta magic, and some other important spells from the original game are difficult to place without overpowering the air side or defaulting it them all to "balanced but hard".
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I've seen some color schemes where Air/nature was green. $\endgroup$
    – Shokhet
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 22:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Shokhet That might help; where? $\endgroup$
    – kaine
    Commented Nov 7, 2014 at 22:06
  • $\begingroup$ More than one place, don't remember all....Lego's Bionicle was definitely one of them. $\endgroup$
    – Shokhet
    Commented Nov 8, 2014 at 23:56

This is putting me in mind of the color scheme of Magic: the Gathering, so I can use that as a start point.

In my mind your magical spectrum is a sphere withing a cube. All three axes pass through the center of the sphere and you mages abilities can be mapped on the surface of the sphere. The strong mage will cover a large portion of the surface while weaker ones will only cover a smaller portion. These portions are represented by a circle drawn on the surface of the sphere with the center point being the core of their ability and getting progressively weaker the farther away from the center-point that you get. No one can cover more than 120 degrees of arc in any direction from their center. This will leave the diametrically opposed magic unavailable to them.

The color continuum would work like so:

Up and down are Good and Evil so White and Black

North and South are Earth and Air so Green and Yellow

East and West are Fire and Water, which is Red and Blue.

Every point on the sphere is affected by the combination of colors. Up oriented mages are going to have a lot of pastels, where down are going to be muddy. North is going to be very green with pastels and muddy colors both. A Westerly mage will be good with water, but not really be able to do anything with fire. A powerful westrly mage will be able to do some up and some down, as well as a little north and a little south. the rule of cool side effect color would be a combination of how much north or how much south or whatever.

I think this kind of thing should make a big portion of you magical system intuitive and consistent to anyone familiar with "Alchemy" and other things.

Where i get the inspiration from M:tG is with the "philosophies" in the colors. Death and Decay and what is associated are black. White is civilization and Order. Green is life, which is chaotic and not always nice. Water is flexible and fluid, like thought. Your various spells would fall along those lines. A conveyance spell to a green mage might mean being slid along the surface of the earth at tremendous speed while a yellow mage would fly. A Black Mage would ride on the back of a nightmare and so on.
You can get creative with this too. Light spells could come from anywhere on the sphere. a Red mage would use fire, a black mage would use a glowing fungus. Water and air mages would both be good at seeming or illusions.

One last note about the cube that is around the sphere. The space around the sphere is the Aether and as such is the purview of deities only. they could posses powers of the spirit that may correspond to the sphere, but are above it.

This sounds like fUn!


Building off @celtschk's answer, you could use something like this:

four elements gradient

and have red be fire, yellow be earth (the color of sand), cyan be water or ice, and blue be air (the color of the sky). Likewise, the colors would be lighter for light magic and darker for dark magic.

  • $\begingroup$ @Vandroiy I intended this to be three axes: fire-water, air-earth, and light-dark. Therefore, the image I posted would be the cross-section of a cube with those three axes. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 7, 2014 at 21:09
  • $\begingroup$ Ah! Sorry, my mistake. I'm deleting the comment (and this one later, if I remember to) $\endgroup$
    – Vandroiy
    Commented Nov 7, 2014 at 21:16

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