Putting it all together
As we draw this series to a close, it might be interesting to look back on what we’ve discovered and lay the groundwork for a Magic System that’s unique, interesting, and realistic – as far as that’s possible when talking about something entirely fictional.
What should we base our magic system on? Let’s do a quick exercise to figure that out.
Magic comes from a reincarnation cycle that is common across the world. We pass power down through generations of reincarnations so can grow pretty huge. Established education centres help to regulate some of the magic users and teach them how to handle their power, but there are always those who have inherited long lines of power. Some people are selfish with their power and some are kind. As always, there are bad people who have made secret societies to manipulate the world. The more powerful you are, the more likely you are to be recruited by a secret society.
Alright – has the potential to be interesting. (Side note: It’s interesting enough that I may actually use it in a future project. Hmm)
Element One: Rules
We know that without rules, everything goes all wibbly-wobbly. That’s certainly not what we want in our magic system.
So, let’s examine the potential rules for this scenario.
We’re told that the magic is based on reincarnation, so that’s a good rule to use as a first or “binding” rule. This rule will bind everything together and make sure that the system has a central core.
Rule 1: In order to get power, you must die
This seems obvious – if you’re being reincarnated, you have to have died first. Sure, but why is that important to declare? Well, it allows us to potentially do something interesting by bending this rule.
What if, to fit the Chosen One trope, we have a “new soul” enter the world? What does their power look like?
Rule 2: You cannot remember all of your past lives
Not as obvious as Rule 1 but still interesting – let’s impose a limit on the secrets that our people can remember.
Nothing is fun when everyone has lived a thousand lives and remembers everything. This also immediately allows us to introduce tiers to our society – those who remember more will naturally gravitate to the top of society while those who remember less will naturally be disadvantaged.
Rule 3: Secrets are unique
This opens up a couple of issues and possibilities. It makes it much harder to write BUT it also introduces the concept that power can shift.
What if you discovered a way to make an enemy forget a piece of their magic? Or better yet, a way to transfer it to yourself?
Suddenly, there’s motivation to plan long-term and discover how you would gain and lose power.
Element Two: Difficulty
This is where we figure out the layers of our Magic System. And it’s hard. We have two very obvious layers:
Layer 1: The Physical World
Where do the people of this world live? How do they live and how does the Magic System change how they interact with where and how they live?
Daniel Greene did a great video on this and had an excellent suggestion – go out into the actual, real-world and try to live A Day in the Life of someone normal – see how they would be impacted by your magic system.
What changes about Nursing?
How do Traffic Officers perform now that there’s magic?
The possibilities are infinite.
Layer 2: The Spiritual World
This one is a little trickier since we have no direct knowledge to fall back on.
When we consider the physical layer, a hill is a hill. Our Magic System deliberately defines that people have souls and so we have concrete knowledge in the context of our world.
We can use this to our advantage. We don’t have to deliberate over what happens when someone dies – we already know!
And for the plot, the people know as well – so how does that change their approach to living and dying?
Element Three: Artifacts
Although the summary above doesn’t really give us anything concrete to go by, we get a hint. We know that there’s education in this world and that it has helped to maintain a balance. That means we have educated people working on world problems.
What if someone creates an artifact that can keep someone alive against their will? Remember, life is different in this world, so priorities have shifted.
If you’re thinking about your long-term gain, you want to essentially “level up” quickly, die and be reborn so you can achieve greater status and power.
Think about artifacts that could help/hinder these goals.
Element Four: Types of Magic
What type of magic are we dealing with in this world? We don’t have any defined limits in the description so, really; the world is completely open.
We could have a very hard system where magical secrets are passed down only in bloodlines and there’s no other way to gain them.
We could have something soft where secrets can be shared between friends, coerced from enemies, and used as gifts by lovers.
Or maybe something in between?
Element Five: Lying
This is the part that’s often the most difficult. It’s time to lie to yourself. Otherwise, this magic system is going to be just that – a simple paragraph that describes the potential for a world but never grows into one.
Is this Magic System unique? Probably not – although it’s randomly generated, the chances of it not having happened before are pretty slim. Are you talented enough to pull it off? Maybe. But the only way you find out is by lying to yourself that you are EXACTLY the right person to write this story. Do you know all the rules and intricacies of the world and magic system? Of course not. But you can write as if you do.
Element Six: Edge Cases
As we know, this is where things sometimes get interesting. It’s easy to think of an edge case we could explore using this Magic System.
What happens when someone, for whatever reason, doesn’t want to die so does everything they can to preserve themselves?
In the world we’re creating, it’s likely that the population is pretty young – it’s an advantage to live fast and die young. If you’re getting into your 90s and everyone else in the world is in their late teens, how does that change things for you?
Element Seven: Power Corrupts
Let’s get some corruption going!
That’s right. We want to see some corruption otherwise what we have is just a world full of butterflies and cheerful people.
Nobody wants to read (or write) about that.
How does an increasing power level corrupt your people? Do they become better or worse? Do any of them suffer existential dread about the way they’re living their lives?
What happens when someone accidentally discovers a way to get toddlers to learn secrets?
Is anyone in your world corrupt enough to create an army of constantly reincarnating toddlers?
Be careful though – don’t let the power corrupt you and don’t let it slow down or break your plot. You still need to have a central line going through everything and it shouldn’t be sacrificed on the altar of power just for convenience. It’s tempting to let every potential power line run free but if you do this, you run the genuine risk of destroying your plot and taking your characters with it.
Well done – you’ve crafted an entire Magic System. And all in the space of one blog post. It really wasn’t all that hard, was it?
Now the hard part comes – if you like the magic system you created, you need to create a world around it and see whether there are any wonderful stories to tell (hint: yes, there are)
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series – I certainly plan on doing many more as we go along. Not necessarily to do with Magic Systems but certainly to do with writing and the things I learn as I write.