In my world, there are two different magic systems. One involves making a pact with a god or spirit to agree to do a specific thing in exchange for power.

The other involves using special spells and rituals to achieve the same magic result.

How can I reasonably explain how one world can have two different magic systems?

Note, in case of the first system, the price comes out of what ever contract you made to get your power.

In the second system, magic draws life energy from the user, and over-use can result in death.

Both systems developed in the same society, but the second one formed first (no one knows how) and was passed down the generations; it is most popular among the rich and/or city dwellers.

The first system formed much later and is most popular among the poor and/or farmers.

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    $\begingroup$ How discrete are these magic systems, apart from how you get access to them? Like, is the output of the system dramatically different, or are they basically similar? $\endgroup$ Jul 14 '16 at 18:25
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    $\begingroup$ If the latter, go read a D&D rulebook. Everyone's magic works sort of the same, but (with few exceptions) no classes gain access to it, or actually cast it in the same way. Clerics are calling down miracles from the god they worship, Warlocks are channeling eldritch power from some being, Wizards are manipulating the Arcane Weave through careful study, Sorcerers can just 'do things,' and so on... $\endgroup$ Jul 14 '16 at 18:29
  • $\begingroup$ @guildbounty the result are pretty much the same with some slight differences I'll add a few more details to explain. $\endgroup$ Jul 14 '16 at 18:31
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    $\begingroup$ @guildsbounty Just because I am a nerd I have to mention that sorcerers access the weave just like a wizard, they just do it innately rather than through study/practice. (I have a level...31 I think, sorcerer I am playing in a table top campaign right now) $\endgroup$
    – James
    Jul 14 '16 at 18:53
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    $\begingroup$ They both count as one system, as Long as they don't conflict. $\endgroup$ Aug 3 '16 at 3:10

Magic is simply energy right? So long as the systems meet your needs and aren't ridiculous in and of themselves, I have no trouble with the concept of multiple systems in one world.

What you really need to define are the sources of the energy, the limits of each source and how a user accesses that energy.

In the physical world, we have many forms of energy. We have fossil fuels, solar, hydro, wind, geothermal, chemical and probably other forms of energy.

Suggesting a magic system with multiple power sources really doesn't strain suspension of disbelief any more than having magic in the first place.

So again. Define the following:

Source: Where does the power come from? In your case there is

  • Life energy, which is pretty strait forward. Read the Eragon series for a great example of this system.
  • The second source you mention is divine/infernal/nature based. If you decide that beings exist in your world that are magical in nature then they exist, and being super powerful have energy to share with casters.

Limits: What are the limits of the system?

  • In the case of life energy this is pretty straight forward. You only have so much energy in the human body and if you use too much you die.
  • In the second system you get to decide. Comparing divine energy to human energy seems strange...but you could. You could also consider the divinity chooses to only provide so much energy or perhaps cosmic laws limit how much they can transfer and at what rate.

Access: In short, how do your magicians execute their powers? In this case it is totally up to you but here are some options...

  • Magical language. Pretty standard fare. Certain words in a certain order unlock/access your source of magic

  • Innate. Nothing special required beyond the will of the caster.

  • Focus. Casting requires a focus, in short an item that channels the magic. Think wands, staves maybe amulets.

There are lots of other options for each category these are just options/examples.

  • $\begingroup$ I think you mixed up: in our world we have different kinds of energy, thermal, kinetic, potential. Those have a myriad of energy SOURCES, some of which you mentioned as types of 'energy'. An answer along those lines would have deeper and more interesting implications. $\endgroup$
    – Oxy
    Apr 12 '17 at 12:04
  • $\begingroup$ While not exactly a contribution to the answer: I always think in information conservation first. The universe after a magic spell, h̶a̶s̶ ̶t̶o̶ I like it to be the same than the one before the spell. The anime Full Metal Alchemist, seems to deal very well with it with the "Equivalent Exchange" principle. While we may argue that they accelerate entropy to the absurd, or just hack into the matrix like any magic system in the end. The fact that it tries to hide it so much, makes me respect it a lot. $\endgroup$ Feb 9 '21 at 5:37

The gods and spirits are just extremely advanced users of the spell/ritual magic system, so in reality there is only one underlying system of magic.

The means by which a potential magic user gains their powers differs dramatically. Pact-makers negotiate to acquire their gifts while Spell-casters study to earn theirs. But ultimately, the magic being acquired is the same.


There are a variety of ways that you can make this happen. Even though you technically have two different sources: gods and spirits, perhaps there are some "loopholes" you could exploit.

In D&D Next, there are Warlocks, which gain their powers through contacting extra planar entities. While this may seem "cut and dry" each spirit that grants power(s) is different, will have different requirements, grant different spells and so on.

A caster could have a a spirit that is taught to them generation upon generation, and because of the fact that the family has been using the same one for time immemorial, s/he trusts the character(s) a greater portion of his/ her power.

Another way of looking at things could be the powers could work together. A character could be granted powers from sources A, B, whereas another could get their powers from B, C, and so on.

Similarly, the gods could have different portfolios, or powers that they specialize in. There could be agod of war, which would have drastically different powers than a god of peace.

Another idea to differentiate the gods is to have them only use certain spheres. For instance, maybe the gods are powerless to create or control undead, whereas the patron spirits do so routinely.


A completely different shot:

Magic is inward, not outward. The god or spirit they connect with is just a manifestation of their subconscious view of the universe. Just like the universe is "infinite", the subconsciousness is too.

So instead of a set of existing gods and spirits, everything a human believes deeply inside gets projected to the outside. The more humans believe in the same system, the stronger the manifestation of the system gets.

So the reality would be a reflection of thought. In this case magic could be done by having a strong thought in mind. But, of course, it's much more efficient with a ritual, that puts you in the right mindset and lets the wish in yourself grow, so that the will manifests in the world.

A change in yourself is a change in the world. Rituals are amplifying/pushing change in yourself.

So you can have different cults besides each other. It would even explain rogue mages using their own system.


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