An authentic and believable fantasy world has to follow consistent rules. It must seem as if magic (mancery, the Secret Art) really exists, and both author and readers have to know what can and can’t happen in this world. Here are the main rules I follow in my Three Worlds fantasy novels.
Basics of Magic
- Magic is a rare natural ability (the gift) in humans and a few other sentient creatures, but without study, training and self-discipline the gift is unlikely to develop usefully. Those who have mastered the use of magic are called mancers, wizards or adepts. These terms apply to both sexes.
- Magic wants to express itself. Someone with an untaught, blocked or repressed gift is liable to become a danger to themselves and others.
- A few creatures are intrinsically magic (e.g. salamanders, unicorns), though not being sentient they cannot cast spells.
Sources of Power
- Magic requires power. Magical theory states that power can either be drawn from within the user, which is limiting and exhausting, from an enchanted device or object if the adept has one and knows how (which can be dangerous), or by stealing the life force of another person (even more dangerous, and a capital crime). In my later books, from Geomancer on, power can also be drawn from a natural source (the field around a node) which makes far more power available but greatly increases the danger. There may be other sources of power – the theory of magic is poorly understood.
- An adept’s inner power can be used up. Novices may exhaust their power after casting one or two simple spells, and not even the greatest adepts can cast powerful spells (e.g. in battle) for hours without running out of power. Once an adept’s inner power has been exhausted, he/she can do no more magic without resting or sleeping to replenish it.
- Magic use is normally facilitated by an enchanted device such as a staff, wand, ring, amulet, crystal, jewel, book etc. which helps the user to focus and control a spell. Most magic users require such a device to work magic, though great adepts may be able to cast spells without using an enchanted device. People without the gift for magic can’t use such devices, and gifted people without training can only use them poorly. In many cases, the adept must also win the allegiance of the enchanted device’s persona or spirit before using it effectively.
- Specific spells may also be cast via magical objects such as a spell scroll or inscribed rune, an elixir, potion or scent potion, a magical weapon, armour or tool, or enchanted jewellery, bones etc. Occasionally, ungifted people may be able to trigger the contained spell in a magical object (e.g. by using the weapon, wearing the armour or giving someone the potion or cursed item). In most cases, however, the magical gift, plus knowledge, training and willpower are all required to trigger the spell. Additionally, the adept may be required to win the allegiance of the enchanted object’s persona, if it has one, before using it effectively.
- Enchanted devices and objects can be drained of power. Once all the power in an adept’s enchanted device or object has been used, he/she can do no more magic with it until it has been recharged. Some magical objects cannot be recharged; others will be destroyed when all the contained power has been used. Even if the adept has an unlimited supply of enchanted devices, she/he cannot keep casting spells for hours because channelling such a great flow of power will exhaust even the most experienced adept (or worse).
Finding, Storing and Using Power
To wield magic safely and effectively, an adept must master three very difficult skills:
- The Use of Magical Power. This involves:
- finding sources of power (internal or external);
- drawing on power safely;
- using power to work different kinds of spells, each of which will have different requirements, pitfalls and limitations;
- blocking or diverting power used by other adepts; and
- seeking out, identifying and locating the traces left when magical power has been used by others.
- Enchantment of Devices and Objects. This greatly increases the power available to do magic, and the magician’s control of it, but also increases the danger.
- Almost any object can be enchanted if the adept is sufficiently skilled, though in most cases the enchantment will be feeble and will not last long. Few materials can be enchanted strongly, and great and powerful devices can only be made from rare or precious materials;
- The creation of a magical device (such as a staff, wand or ring) to serve as a wizard’s focus is exceedingly difficult. It requires careful selection and rigorous preparation of materials (e.g. for a staff or wand, the right kind of wood, bone, ivory or other material), plus a high degree of mental acuity;
- Enchantment of a device may install a persona or inner spirit in it. It is not known where the persona comes from, however it has a life and will of its own and may be able to communicate with the owner of the device, and others. A persona makes the device more powerful, assuming the adept can win its allegiance, but in certain circumstances the persona may think it knows best. If an adept cannot win the allegiance of the persona, the device will be a great danger.
- Working with the Persona of an Enchanted Device. Although the persona can be dominated by a sufficiently powerful adept, it will resent this and may hold back power, or attempt to make spells go wrong. It is far more effective to win the persona’s allegiance via a meeting of minds (or through charm or flattery). Where a device has not been used for a long time, the persona may have to be woken, or coaxed out of a comatose state.
Effectiveness of Magic
- Rare places, natural or built, can enhance magic (or certain kinds of magic) done there. For instance, some places may be particularly suited to the working of dark magic; other places may facilitate the creation of gates (portals). The converse is also true: some places may weaken magic done there, or increase the risk of a spell going badly wrong.
- The effectiveness of a spell depends on the person using it. People have different abilities, attitudes, passions, beliefs and prejudices, strengths and weaknesses and taboos, all of which will influence the kinds of magic they are drawn to, and how effectively they can use it. Just as in our world some people can’t do maths, and others can’t sing in tune, some adepts can only work certain kinds of spells. Some adepts (not necessarily bad people) are attracted to the dark side, others repulsed by it.
- Magic is shaped by the person using it. Every individual will work a spell differently and some spells will actually look different (e.g., a shapeshifters’).
- History matters. The present-day world has been shaped by people’s choices in the past. A magical device, object, spell or place may work differently today because of how it was used or misused in the past.
Limitations of Magic
- All magic has limitations and all spells have weak points.
- Every spell can be blocked, if the defender has the knowledge, experience and power. Most spells can be reversed.
- Magic is an art, not a science, and contains an element of randomness. Sometimes spells cast perfectly will fail, rebound on the user, or go wrong.
- Spells cast imperfectly, or by adepts who lack the knowledge or control, are likely to go disastrously wrong (see next point).
- Magic always has a cost to the user – and it can be high.
- Using magic generally causes aftersickness – pain, nausea, migraines etc. – and sometimes it can be so debilitating that the adept cannot defend himself for hours. Aftersickness is worst for novices, but can also badly affect experienced adepts if using a powerful or unfamiliar spell.
- If too much power is drawn, or the adept overreaches his abilities and loses control working a powerful spell, the result can be injury, madness or even a gruesome death (e.g., by anthracism (burning from the inside out), or bodily explosion).
- Magic can’t violate the fundamental laws of nature, e.g.
- Conservation of matter – you can’t turn an elephant into a mouse (without shedding most of its mass) or vice versa (without a source of the right mass). Transformation of people, animals or objects of very different sizes requires staggering amounts of power and only the greatest adepts can do it successfully;
- Conservation of energy – magical power can’t be created or destroyed, only transformed. If a Great Spell goes wrong, or a mighty magical object is corrupted, it is liable to create magical pollution and may contaminate the area with toxic magical waste. In such deadly places, plants, animals and even stone and earth can take on strange and dangerous forms, and power flows wildly and uncontrollably, perverting everything it touches.
- Not all actions are reversible, and where they are, reversal is very difficult.
- It’s easy to break things but very difficult to put them back together, and the greater the damage the less likely that it can be repaired by magic. E.g., a broken cup can normally be repaired, but a cup that has been smashed to bits may be irreparable. A spilled potion can be magicked back into its container but, due to contamination by dirt or dust, may no longer work.
- A wound inflicted in seconds may take days or weeks to heal via magic. The greater the injury, the more difficult it will be to heal, and some injuries may be impossible to heal.
- Death means death. Although great sorcerers may be able to raise a dead person with necromancy, the raised person will never have true life and will long to return to death.
- Time only runs forward. It’s theoretically possible to jump forward in time, but it’s not possible to go backwards.
- Instantaneous transportation (either via a portal, teleportation, or summoning) is incredibly dangerous.
- Two objects can’t occupy the same space and if an object or person is transported into the space occupied by something else the result will be a catastrophic explosion.
- If the portal, or the teleportation or summoning spell fails, the person or object may end up nowhere, with no way back, or may simply cease to exist.
- If part of the person being transported is left behind, he/she will probably die instantly or bleed to death.
- You can’t make something out of nothing. Objects (e.g. money, food, clothing, weapons) created solely by magic will neither sustain or last long. Normally it’s far easier to summon what is needed from elsewhere, if that is possible.
- Magic has no morality. It’s neither good nor evil, though some kinds of magic are mainly used for dark purposes by bad people.
The Main Kinds of Magic (considerable overlap in these categories)
- Psychic – mental attack: mind damage, mind control, & reading, changing or deleting memories; mental defence: blocking mental attacks and the reading of thoughts and memories; empathy; clairvoyant magics such as sendings, seeings, hearings and mind-linking, used for communication or spying; read the history or nature of an object; telekinesis, ie moving nearby objects. Includes the visualisation of power and the traces left by the use of magic;
- Healing, Strength and Longevity – healing potions and balms, and healing spells; spells or potions that confer greater strength or other physical attributes; increased longevity; renewal of one’s life or the life of another (see also Chymical and Alchemy);
- Control of Animals – control and use of magical animals (may also use Charm and Illusion);
- Shapeshifting – were-creatures who can’t control it, and shapeshifters who can (mostly). Shapeshifting is extremely difficult and subject to similar size/weight limitations as Transformation.
- Divination – seeing the future, reading the past. Gaining insight to a question through signs, symbols, the stars, omens, crystal balls, reading cards, pools and mirrors etc.;
- Illusion – creation of realistic images, settings or scenes that fool the eye; also mesmerism (of individuals and groups); bewitchment and charming; and invisibility and revelation;
- Elemental Magic – controlling earth, air, fire, water and ether (also known as quintessence). Blasts of light or fire, explosions. Animating inert objects & disintegration of objects. Weather magic;
- Enchantment or Charm – putting a spell on an object (or a person or animal) to make it do something it wouldn’t normally do, e.g., make a broom fly, summon an object, create an enchanted device, put a curse on an object. Also confusion charms, memory charms on people etc.
- Transformation – changing objects from one form to another. Unless the two objects are similar in size and weight, transformation is exceedingly difficult;
- Transportation and Conjuration.
- Normal transportation: human flight; creating or enchanting objects (brooms, carpets etc.) to move and fly.
- Instantaneous transportation (requires high-level mastery and great power): Creating portals between one place and another; teleportation of objects and people; conjuring or summoning objects from a distance. All these are very dangerous.
- Chymical – alchemy (transmutation or transformation of matter and/or self; creation of panaceas and elixirs); formulation of incenses, potions or scent potions designed to affect people for good or ill;
- Herbalism – cultivation and use of magical plants. Also related to Alchemy, Healing, potions and scent potions;
- Masonry, Artificing and Smithcraft – magically working with metal, stone and other materials to make or build non-magical or magical items.
- Geomancy – using the latent power in certain rare crystals, minerals, rocks and fossils, or more commonly, enchanting such items. Using the earth as a power source, e.g. fields developed around geological or geographic features such as fault lines, meteor craters, volcanoes, ore bodies etc.
- Astronomy – studying the power and influence of the heavenly bodies. May be facilitated and power (possibly) tapped via armillaries and orreries. Related to Divination;
- Mathemancy – laws of numbers, magical patterns (magic squares, circles, fractals, spirals, symmetries etc.), geometry and topology (e.g. Mobius strips, Klein bottles, trefoil knots etc.);
- Symbology – the magic and power of symbols, runes, alphabets, syllabaries or glyphs;
- Necromancy – Talking to, raising, animating and controlling the dead. Also summoning and controlling spirits or demons, and exorcism;
- Dark Magic – may include any of the above when used for bad purposes (or sometimes for self-defence), e.g.:
- Hexes, curses and jinxes (forms of Enchantment);
- Magic designed to rob, damage, oppress or cause pain, suffering, illness or madness, or ruin beauty or kill;
- Magic that draws power from pain, suffering, illness or death;
- Necromancy (see above);
- Dark potions and scent potions, and destructive or corrupting spells.
3rd Edition, Feb 4, 2017.
Near-universal Laws of Magic. Isaac Bonewits, Authentic Thaumaturgy, 2nd Ed, http://www.neopagan.net/AT_Laws.html
Kinds of Magic: http://powerlisting.wikia.com/wiki/Magic