Magic is drawn from an alternate dimension and used to alter reality in the world around you. It generally involves three steps.

  • The first is tapping into this other realm and drawing energy from it into your body. This is a slow, arduous process that cannot be rushed. Every spell has its own time frame. The analogy is compared to cooking: too slow and nothing substantial will happen, too fast and there will be a "flaw" in the spell.
  • The second step involves holding the energy in your body and keeping it stable. This energy tends to leak out of pores or fizzle away, so the more stable and controlled it is, the more effective the spell.
  • The final part involves directing the energy outside your body to perform the actual spell. You must activate it by performing the incantation and envisioning the spell that you want to perform, such as starting a campfire or speeding up the growth of crops.

All of this requires much concentration and focus, and can be the equivalent of physical activity. Spells can take several minutes to hours to perform, depending on how powerful it is.

While regular magic is almost slow and patient, attack magic is the opposite. It requires aggressively forcing energy from the dimension and imposing your will onto the world. Creating fireballs and throwing lightning are some of the ways this form of magic is used to attack or defend. Although much quicker and more powerful, it is highly dangerous.

Drawing energy this way can be painful. Holding it inside yourself, without the right amount of control, can cause the energy to damage your internal organs, or make you combust, infect you with a disease, age prematurely, etc. Directing it out of your body without the right amount of control can also cause you to hurt yourself, like blowing off your own arm, losing control of the spell and causing collateral damage.

Would these drawbacks be enough to constrain usage of attack magic among people? Is more needed to control the use of this brand of magic?


5 Answers 5


The short answer is: You'd better honking believe it's enough. But, just to be sure, let's look at a comparison.

If I ask the question, "What would it take to constrain the use of a gun as a means of attack among the population," the value of your proposition becomes remarkably clear. Guns are relatively cheap. Bullets even more so. The method of holding a gun can cause discomfort (I wish I could remember the show and episode that pointed out that holding a modern semi-automatic pistol sideways "gangsta style" resulted in the slide cutting your hand), but, ultimately, it causes no pain, no fuss, no problem at all to use a gun to attack, for example, a neighbor.

So, why don't we see the use of guns gone rampant in our society? I mean, it's bad, but it's not The Purge bad. Why isn't it?

Because our society has, over the course of millennia, established rules of conduct about how you can legitimately "attack" your neighbor and what happens to you if you circumvent those rules. Your world would have rules just like this (if for no other reason than there's always somebody who wants to impose rules on other people).

Then, add to this the fact that it's painful, even fatal, to use attack magic and your society would, frankly, almost never use it. You might see small "attacks" like spells that mimic pinching the girl next to you (you know, 6-year-old stuff) — small "offences" that lead to spanking which reinforces the more complex stuff later on — but the big stuff? It's use would become a huge taboo... if only because the first thing anybody's going to do is look around to see who's doubled over in pain, then point their finger and scream, "That dude did it!" Cue the police.

So, considering you're imposing something more than our own society has done for the purpose of social order: Yes! it's plenty. What would make interesting stories would be the tales of how people circumvented the weaknesses for their own gains (much like we love crime mysteries today).

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    $\begingroup$ A good comparison might be molotov cocktails or homemade pipe-bombs. They are equally likely to take off your hand as they are to hurt anyone else. And you rarely see them used in the real world, outside of total desperation. $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Aug 14, 2017 at 13:13
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    $\begingroup$ I would add that what you've said is also represented in the "Once Upon a Time" television series. "Magic has a price (dearie!)" is a common theme and cause for serious reservation about using it - with a few glaring (and needed) exceptions. $\endgroup$ Aug 15, 2017 at 9:39

I like your system. It has a lot of promise.

It even offers a very simple argument to limit the use of attack magic: "it requires aggressively forcing energy from the dimension and imposing your will onto the world." When you impose your will on the world, it imposes its will on you. And you will find the world is a very big place.

One approach to this I have used is to say that the actions of your magic work perfectly, in the world you believe you are living in. However, if the world does not exactly match your model (and it rarely does), then the effects are not exactly as you want them to be. And they are really close to you. 99.9% of your lightning bolt spell may go to the intended target. However, if that 0.1% hits your own heart instead... well... let's just say this qualifies as a really good reason to not use attack magic unless you have to.


Would these drawbacks be enough to constrain usage of attack magic among people?

I think this is just authorial choice, scale it to the needs of your plot. You can ramp up the fear factor among the other characters in the book; to the point the reader fears for the life of the hero using it (or is glad the villain must resort to it).

This is akin to the story telling technique of corroboration: If all the characters treat Cindy and talk about Cindy as being the most beautiful girl in the world, then in the eyes of the audience she is. On "The Big Bang" series, all the characters pretend Sheldon is one of the greatest physicists of all time, even other academics (except for Stephen Hawking), so the audience accepts that Sheldon is a world class brilliant physicist.

The danger of attack magic can be similar, and fun to write about the failures. Campfire stories abound about heads exploding and magicians being mysteriously diced into perfect fingernail sized cubes. The heroes about to use it go through elaborate rituals preparing to die in the effort, receiving the blessing of the King and an embrace and Kiss on the cheek from the Queen before they depart, since they will almost certainly die for the Kingdom at some point in the battle.

Or you can make it less dangerous than that; rig the odds (and the outcome) to fit your plot. Maybe a turning point is the hubris of your best Attack Magician, the one that never fails and knows it full well, the one superstar everybody is cheering for, saunters to the hill above the battle, casts his spell and is split in half and turned inside out by his spell, killing half the men around him and causing the loss of a pivotal battle that makes it seem all is lost.


Yes, with a few exceptions...

You describe a process that requires patience, concentration, and focus.

Combat allows none of those things. Combat is fast-paced, requires you to be keenly aware all the time of what's going on around you, and rarely gives you the opportunity to sit down and work on something that is complex and nuanced like baking a souffle but with the possibility that messing up will blow your arm off.

Think of it like this: In society, people will use ready-to-hand weapons in non-military fights. Knives. Guns. Random blunt weapons like pipes, baseball bats, etc. But they very rarely use something that requires the finesse you describe. And never in heat-of-the-moment fights -- which is most of them. Just as you rarely see people use nitroglycerin or IEDs in typical fights.

You are setting up a situation where combat magic might exist and be used in mass-combat events. Armies clashing somewhere might have at least a few trained combat wizards around. But they'd be used carefully, early in the fights, and would have to be ready to bug out fast if the combat didn't go according to plan. They might be a first strike force, firing the opening salvos of a battle. But they would not be front-line forces like cannon. Maybe rear forces like artillery.

Combat magic might also be used in similar ways to today's IEDs. Bombs that may be risky, but are perceived as worth the risk by their users (terrorists, revolutionaries, etc.).

And because of magic IEDs, you might have the equivalent of bomb squads in some cities, magicians trained to counter combat magic -- and therefore trained to perform combat magic. They might also serve within your world's equivalent to SWAT teams, trained to perform precision combat magic in rare but extreme situations.


The sheer effort of practicing as well as the imposed social taboo of it, (why are you trying to learn how to hurt people and nearly kill yourself..weirdo) would be enough to move it to the fringe elements of society, however with a thing like magic it will be used by lone groups, scientists and professionals because its still a fascinating area.

In this world because of the dangers this kind of magic practice would have to be tightly regulated and controlled by authorities, because a tiny bit of knowledge could lead to a massive explosion killing hundreds - this has probably happened before hence the laws around such use and would be enforced by the public informing on people who are practicing. Hopefully detectors can easily identify if magic has been used by the person recently to avoid any witch hunts and false positives.


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