# Specifics of magical symbols and casting: What makes Air-drawn magic difficult to master?

This is a continuation of my Specifics of magical symbols and casting series of questions.

Air-Drawn magic in this world would be invoked in a similar process as emotions, the brain of beings in this universe, much like ours with fight or flight, recognizes when the being is attempting to channel magic. This can be used in many ways, channeled to sticks, stones, weapons, and even more abstract things like speech, thoughts. However, for this scenario, as a person sticks out their finger (or other appendage), while channeling magic, they can draw symbols in the air, which the "Magic Layer" that permeates all things automatically interprets as something, or nothing.

However, there are in-betweens. What makes air-drawn symbols difficult to master?

Could it be something that could be combined like a written language - would there be cursive or other variations in writing?

Note:

The symbol being drawn can be perceived, not necessarily physically seen. As every person and being is unique, the DNA mixed into the body's magic inductor makes it function more similar to how humans, ants, other creatures in our world can smell or otherwise "sense" pheromones. That does mean, that every creature can see these motions and the apparent "effect" in the physical realm, however this could be masked, much like pheromones in the real world.

It is also a very short-lived effect. Say, like a trail behind a finger as it traces, it is only visible for at most a second to the untrained senses.

This mechanism is solely an evolutionary trait that allows users to see what they're doing, and doesn't affect their magic abilities, unless their ability to sense these kinds of traces are hindered.

• Can the user see the symbols as they draw them? – Chris M. Aug 24 '17 at 20:31
• @ChrisM. Yes, but it is much more like pheromones, I suppose? I will update the question with info. – Mackenzie Fritschle Aug 24 '17 at 20:48
• Make the symbols three dimensional, this adds another layer to the complexity. – Will Aug 25 '17 at 6:26

Have you ever tried drawing a perfect circle free hand? Or a square?

What makes air drawn symbols and rune magic difficult is actually drawing the symbols correctly. Even a simple circle is difficult, imagine drawing an ampersand (&) or complex pictographs. Any slight error causes the spell to fail or to have less power.

On top of that you need to remember all the symbols and what they do, and then remember what order to draw them in to invoke a specific ability.

For runes I would imagine they could be combined with each rune perhaps performing a specific action (a system used in quite a few games), so one rune might mean fire while another might mean moving an object. Combined together you get a fireball. This limits what you can do based on what runes exist, meaning you can only perform a specific set of actions via magic.

You would probably also specify time limits, so that all runes for one spell must be drawn with only a few seconds between each one. This means you can't stop to check a book or scroll if you forget what you are doing.

Furthermore, make failing a spell costly. As in do it right or you risk killing yourself (and maybe everyone around you), many magic systems do this (Warhammer Fantasy comes to mind, where miscasts can summon demons to kill you) and it means while mages and wizards are very powerful they are also walking a fine line between wielding that power correctly and death.

Finally, another limiting factor could be willpower. You draw the right runes but you still need to be able to provide the power for the spell yourself. This requires training and practise, so any novice who picks up the spell for destroying a city can read it, but not imbue it with the power required to cast it.

• I like the risk attatched to a mis-cast. +1 for that! – Paul TIKI Aug 24 '17 at 21:24
• @PaulTIKI It is a particularly effective way of limiting the power of magic, or at least tempering it. It means you can still allow mages who can tear down a whole city by themselves, because they are just as likely to turn themselves into a smouldering corpse or worse as succeed. – adaliabooks Aug 24 '17 at 21:25
• Yeah, I get that, My brain often goes to making it hard on the front end, I don't often think of the consequences... – Paul TIKI Aug 24 '17 at 21:30
• @PaulTIKI It all depends on what you want really. Making it difficult to perform magic at all generally means mages are rare and magic unusual, powerful magic even more so. Making magic easy but dangerous leads to a less predictable world where magic is freely available but often leaves smoking craters littering the landscape. – adaliabooks Aug 24 '17 at 21:41
• I just know I had a devil of a time with Tai Chi. Wish I had time and money to keep it up though. @adaliabooks you just reminded me of Terry Pratchett "A wizard always leaves something behind, even if its just a pair of smoking boots" :) I like the idea of a wild west magic scenario – Paul TIKI Aug 25 '17 at 13:19

Others have suggested excellent ideas focusing on making the symbols themselves difficult to create in the air. I would like to suggest a slightly different approach:

Simply making the motions is not all that is required

I'm taking a bit of a page out of the recent Dr. Strange movie, in which the titular Strange says "Even if my fingers could do that, my hands would just be waving in the air". He then goes on to struggle with employing magic because he cannot see past what he perceives as the physical nature of magic (the hand motions).

My suggestion, then, in addition to making the symbols themselves physically difficult to draw precisely, is to require a deeper/different/more advanced perspective of things. Magic in your world is essentially an extra dimension that your wizards/magicians can perceive recent interactions with. Perceiving something is not influencing it, though, just as seeing leaves moving is not the same thing as understanding wind.

To make your spells difficult to master beyond the physical motions, you need your magic-users to seek out a deeper understanding of what exactly they are doing, beyond just what they can see. Looking past the physical nature of the motion to understand what you are doing (causing ripples/perturbances in the "magic" dimension to the desired effect?) requires a paradigm shift that will be difficult to master for even simple effects. More complex interactions will require a broader shift in perspective and a deeper understanding.

It's also a little like flying in the Hitchhiker's Guide series - the trick is to throw yourself at the ground and miss. That similarly requires an inherent rethinking of everything you "know" and "believe" to even get the basics.

• H2G2 gets a +1! Arthur dent would make an interesting mage. Maybe not a good one, but an interesting one. – Paul TIKI Aug 24 '17 at 21:19

In general, you cannot see the last symbol you just drawn. Feeling frustrated when you enter your password and you forget the last character you've just entered?

The length.
Again, the length of the symbol sequence makes it difficult to master a complex spell.

The shape.
What? The rune for Oi' is bigger square than Loi' ? And it's not a perfect square?

3D. It's not just a symbol that can be learnt from a book, because the exact rune is in 3D. The rune for Rug'h is a slightly twisted prism.

Relative location. The rune might need to be drawn above your head. Or just as close to your heart. Or maybe just above the ground to summon an earth elemental.

• Your first point actually works very well with my edit, I noticed - if someone has trained their senses enough, they could possibly see lingering magical traces for much later than your average person - which makes me think of hunters, detectives, and trackers. And right on with all the rest. Everything combined really adds 4 dimensions of difficulty to a spell. Of course, it complements well the idea that someone who is more spatially or visually inclined will adapt better than one simply better at speech or literature in this field. – Mackenzie Fritschle Aug 24 '17 at 20:59
• – Vylix Aug 24 '17 at 21:05
• Ah! Good point, that's an awesome little detail to include in the world. Thankfully with the setup, it would be possible to have different varying tendencies not just among beings, but also gender or species, which would allow for both the extremes of a man being awful, and a woman being the best in the world. Basically, it allows a lot of extra variance that reflect reality with not a ton of extra work. Thanks! – Mackenzie Fritschle Aug 24 '17 at 21:15

I would suggest to use calligraphy (as in Chinese handwriting).

Have a look, in particular to "Water calligraphy or ground" I saw people practicing it while traveling in China and I was very impressed. They manage to give artistic forms to Ideograms I do not understand "per se", but I could very well understand their harmony in gesture and result.

You could stipulate that your "air signs" are like ideograms, anyone (?) can draw them, but to have real power they need to be drawn with grace and fluid precision, otherwise spell has no force, like a wet firecracker.

Require both precision and focus from relatively large gross body movements, kind of like Tai Chi.

Have you ever tried to to make precisely the same movement, at a controlled speed, over and over again? It is much harder than it looks. Tai Chi is one of those arts where you try to move in a controlled fashion. The poses, in themselves, aren't all that difficult to mimic in a crude fashion, but to flow from one to the next with grace and precision is a lot harder to do. So make the magic like that.

Magical energy flows up from the earth and blends with the air and your movement and focus disrupts that flow in specific ways

In order for the spell to take place the angle of bend of the right leg must be just so for the energy to flow into the left arm which is at precisely 60 degrees at the elbow in order for the energies to turn in the desired way for the spell to take place. or something like that, anyway.

These air drawn symbols involve the entire body, with particular finesse in the hands to give the flow of magic a specific spin, if you will. This alteration of the flow impinges upon the material world in a predictable manner.

The Magic isn't just by physical movement, of course, the mage has to be aware of the flow and has to exert his will on a specific result, relying on the body movements to act as the channel through which the magic flows out.

• I want to upvote your answer, but your points are at 7777 right now ... – Vylix Aug 24 '17 at 21:17
• holy crud. Is there a way I can lock that in place? I dno't need moderator tools, I want to keep the rep at 777 – Paul TIKI Aug 24 '17 at 21:22
• @Vylix aw, got an upvote elsewhere. No more 7777 – Paul TIKI Aug 25 '17 at 13:20

Hard to predict perturbances caused by others. Since the 'magic layer' permeates everything, it's probably actually a single field that is altered by everyone interested at that time.

Imagine a sand-like glitter that only you can see, that hovers suspended in the air, that you're gently pushing with your bulky fingers to make it form some more or less complex shape/figure/etc, and that it suddenly starts to slowly drift away not because of the wind, but because a fellow wizard has just fumbled a spell in a village three miles away.

..or not just drift, as simple translation/offset could be easy to compensate - let's add shape skewing, ripples (that one feels very natural to me), and drawing instantly gets very difficult.

As soon as I read "Air-Drawn Magic" I immediately thought of Brandon Sanderson's Elantris book.