World Building: Magic Systems w/Kira of the Wind
This week’s #AuthorNook question, hosted by me, Erika McCorkle, asked the fantasy writers of Twitter to describe their world’s magic systems. We received a variety of answers describing hard and soft magic, mana or life-force-based systems, magic melded with science, and magic based on elements or astronomy or other natural phenomena.
We were delighted to read everyone’s responses and see the amazing amount of creativity that goes into your worlds. Here are expanded responds by Elyse Cunningham, Rosalyn Briar, Basil Serpent, Pat Luther, and Anny Borg.
I hope you enjoy! Join the conversation in the comments if you wish. Feel free to ask the authors any questions you may have, or discuss the foundation of your story.
**Note from Laken: Sorry to interrupt Kira's awesome blog post here but did you know she has launched her own website? Find it here www.authormccorkle.com. Aaaaand, she's about to be a published author with Shadow Spark Publishing! All the tea's on her Twitter @Kiraofthewind1
There are 14 basic elemental magic in the Kaeyama. The magic is Fire, Water, Desert, Dark/Shadow, Light/Healing, Lightning*, Wind, Frost, Moon, Metal, Earth/Nature, Time*, Soul*, and Life*. When a person is born, the magic is naturally sealed until age 6 when they are taught to harness their abilities. But there are cases where the magic within certain people is permanently disabled through disease, genetics, someone sealed their abilities, they were cursed or the magic unseals at a later time.
The unsealing at a later time usually falls under humans, if they are one of those lucky ones, to be born into a household that is still allowed to use magic. The reason for humans and their rarity with magic is due to Niatha the Goddess of Magic took the humans abilities to control magic after several magic wars and people being turned to stone. Now, this begs the question - can someone with sealed abilities get their magic back? They can, but it depends on some factors. If the cause is through disease or genetics, there’s nothing anyone, the Goddess of Magic included, can do.
If someone had sealed a child’s or adult’s abilities, there’s a 50/50 chance that Niatha may or may not help, especially with curses. The reason for the Goddess of Magic not being able to help with curse removal? Some are permanently bound and if she attempted to remove them, she could accidentally kill that person.
While Niatha can help magic users or potential magic users, she has to be careful about what she does to assist a mortal. She doesn’t want to get in trouble with the mortal’s family/loved ones or her fellow
Deities, especially Morrigan, the Goddess of Death.
*Time, Soul, and Life magic is restricted to the Gods and Goddesses, Guardians (my term for Lesser Gods), or Demis.
**Lightning is an ability that isn’t used often because of its wild and destructive nature. If someone who isn’t a God, Goddess, Guardian, or Demi has this ability; they either use this magic in times of emergencies or to defend themselves from larger enemies. Or they allow their abilities to be sealed as they do not want to be a danger to others.
Originally, when Elyse Cunningham wrote The Legend of Bolyra, it started out as a short story inspired by Skyrim and Legend of Zelda’s A Link Between Worlds. It was (another) weird fanfiction, but unlike the 2001 Pokemon/Harvest Moon fanfiction, this story evolved into its own novella during the 2017 NaNo. It was then ignored for roughly 2 years and revisited in late December 2019. Where nearly everything was scrapped and built from the ground up. The only thing that remained was Aerilaya and Kailu, who managed to survive several rewrites. Outside of writing the standalone connected Legends series, she enjoys playing video games, reading, and dabbling in digital art.
Find Elyse on Twitter @AuthorElyseC or her website elyse726.wixsite.com/nightfoxproductions.
For the magic system in my WIP Her Dark Enchantments, only the fairies can wield magic—but it is not all-powerful. The fairies use wands of the magic Dormrya wood to help them harness their powers by tracing runes (or enchantments). Their magic is a balance with nature and can drain the user of their energy.
Each fairy has one rune they can master (some are water fairies, animal fairies, fashion fairies, plant fairies, etc.). It is like a skill they can work toward, but limits them from being too powerful. This also creates a variety of ways fairies can contribute to their small, close-knit community.
Those of royal blood, though, like The Three Good Fairies, are capable of mastering multiple runes—a “fact” that my MC Myravelle would say is debatable after seeing how ridiculous the TGF’s fashion skills truly are!
Myravelle grew up in captivity and never had any proper magic training. Her mother spun gold for the king but forbade Myravelle from attempting magic. In a time of desperation, though, Myravelle saw a rune glowing in her mind’s eye—and saved her mother’s life. This led the king to exploit her for her healing powers for years.
There are spoiler-y reasons why Myravelle can master any rune she attempts, albeit a tad chaotically, but let’s just say her magic isn’t bound by the same rules as the other fairies.
The magic system isn’t super complicated, but I love when there are limits on power—so that is what I went with!
Rosalyn is the published author of The Crown of Bones and A Sea of Pearls & Leaves, both of which are fairy tale retellings. She is also the host of #NovelBuilding, a daily Twitter question with monthly themes for fellow writers to connect. When Rosalyn isn’t writing or reading, you can find her playing dress up with her two princesses or exploring the woods for wildflowers.
Find Rosalyn on Twitter @RosalynBriar or at www.rosalynbriar.com.
Magic in the setting of Knight of Ash (which I’ll refer to as Angalir) varies in at least some degree from that of other fantasy settings. As opposed to some extra source of energy, the magic on Angalir is performed using metabolic energy, the very same energy used in physical tasks people - real or fictional - perform every day. Casting a spell can exhaust you, or worse, even kill you if you’re not spellborne (born with the ability to take energy from your surroundings).
‘Knight of Ash: The Venomous Tempest’ doesn’t directly deal with the use of magic. It shows up at one point and is technically the thing which set the plot in motion, but none of my main characters use it.
When creating this side of my world, I wanted to explore how I could include magic without making it an easy out. I felt it was important to make sure that an injury couldn’t simply be healed instantly, or that any problem could be solved by using a spell. The challenge there is what made world-building magic interesting to me, essentially making it into a personal writing exercise.
Basil Serpent is a writer, artist, and amateur palaeontologist from The Netherlands. His first publicly available short stories, The Mournful Path, is available to read for free on Royalroad, and he is currently working on his first novel Knight of Ash: The Venomous Tempest, which is in the beta reading stage.
Find Basil on Twitter@Basilisk_Art.
When I was in high school, I wrote a series of stories about a character called Yagmar the Barbarian. He was a very thin derivative of Conan, though perhaps more akin to Grignr from Eye of Argon. Nothing of those original stories survives now.
Last November, for NaNoWriMo, I decided to take a break from my more “serious” writing and spend a month on a short comedic novella, a tongue-in-cheek tribute to that character. As I was writing, though, it quickly evolved into something else and now the focus is on the bard, Oghni, through whose eyes the story is told.
I did a lot of world building in the new story that was never part of the original. Some vocabulary and grammar rules for three different languages, the politics of the various nations, Oghni, Yagmar, and his friends travel through a new calendar and, of course, the magic system.
Magic in the world of Oghni, involves “piercing the veils” to different planes of existence whose properties are different from our own. The will of the wizard creates an opening in the fabric of reality. Their words give it form, their gestures give it shape. Boldness of movement and voice determine the size of the ethereal tear. Power comes from the imbalance of energy between the two worlds.
For example, a wizard could start a fire by piercing the veil into a plane containing fire. They could move an object by shaping a tear above it to a plane where gravity goes a different direction. They could heal a wound by exposing it to a world where the flesh “wants” to be whole or where time moves fast enough so that an injury that could take weeks to heal instead takes minutes.
That’s the gist of it, though it’s a bit more complex. For one, the worlds closest to us are more similar than our own, so a wizard needs to create an opening first into a bordering world, then from there one further away, so most magical effects involve manipulating not one, but a series of strategic tears. Of course, knowledge of these other worlds—their properties and position relative to each other—is as important as the knowledge of how to open these tears in the first place, which is why it takes years to become any good at magic.
It’s also dangerous for a variety of reasons. As you might expect from the metaphor, “tearing” the veil is not precise. If too much power comes through, it could have catastrophic effects. That’s how the continent where our story takes place got split in half a thousand years ago and why magic is forbidden in most places. Wizards are distrusted at best and criminals at worst, though their art is too useful, especially in warfare, to be outlawed altogether.
There is also another danger to the wizard and anyone around them. The worlds that wizards use into aren’t all uninhabited. Opening the veil can draw the attention of malevolent spirits known as “mage eaters.” These spirits will attack the wizard from the other side of the veil, drawing their life force or, if powerful enough, parts of their physical being, through the tear. Needless to say, this is not a pleasant experience for the wizard in question.
Which brings us back to our main character, Oghni. He was a musician before beginning his studies into magic. In his research, he learned of a lost art called Warsong., which used music rather than voice and gesture, to manipulate magical effects on a grand scale. Without knowing how it was done exactly, he has experimented in recreating it, and has found a way to use his music to “ripple”—rather than tear—the veil to bring about magical effects. So far, these are nowhere near as powerful as what a true wizard can do, but without an actual opening between worlds he remains safe from the mage eaters.
Pat Luther has been writing and telling stories in many forms since he was a child. He still has a handwritten and hand bound “book” of short stories he wrote when he was seven. His first novel, Yellow Tape and Coffee, an urban fantasy epic, came out in June of this year and his second, a science fiction novel, will be out in March 2022. He hopes to publish Yagmar by the end of next year.
Find Pat on Twitter@plutheus and on his website pluther.us.
Magic in Wheltem, the world of my fantasy series When the World Falls, I’ll be Safe from the Wrath of God, is an elemental system, divided in many practices and understandings of it. But Answard, the main character, associated the word magic with the practice of Magecraft, so that’s what I’ll share a bit about.
The source of magic is mana, which is primarily found in living beings. It also exists freely in the air, and to a lesser extent in inanimate objects. When they talk about mana, they speak of flows as well, which exist in both the air and in living beings. Magecraft is a practice that only uses internal mana of the individual, thus limited to what the being has to spare without using the mana necessary for their body to function.
On the Continent extended, they consider mana to exist as nine Elements, which are commonly listed in the order End, Light, Wind, Air, Fire, Water, Earth, Shadow and Beginning. Out of these nine Elements, they call the first and last the Secondary Elements and mages never use them, though there are uses for them as well. They called the remaining seven the Primary Elements, and they are used for all Magecraft.
While the Elements don’t specifically have any opposites, Light and Shadow have many opposite properties, while they believe Fire is strong against Earth and Air, Earth against Wind and Water, Wind against Air and Fire, Air against Water and Earth, and Water against Fire and Wind.
All living will have an affinity to at least one Element, though two is rare, three practically unheard of, and four or more implausible. When this affinity is strong, a being can have an aptitude for magic. Some kinds of beings have a higher percentage of individuals with an aptitude, and those who do not tend to have more physically strong individuals. Humans are considered physically strong, as opposed to, say, a water nymph whose magical ability would be their strength. The stronger the aptitude, the stronger magic the individual can use.
However, because one’s affinity is limited, so is one’s ability to use spells. Someone with an affinity to Fire won’t be able to use a water spell, and vice versa. This isn’t the only limitation, however. Two mages with fire affinity might not be able to use the same spell at all, because one’s affinity tends to be limited to a certain property within or an association to the Element.
The Fire Element, for instance, includes properties such as, for instance, burn, melt, heat, spark, and flame. The Wind Element is associated with things such as movement and speed. These may seem more obvious, while others may not. Examples of this would be the Light Element’s association to the mind and abstract and the Shadow Element’s association to the body and all physical.
Alfljót, one of the characters, is an Elven mage from the Northern Kingdom, whose affinities are Light and Fire. Out of these two, she’s able to use fire magic. Her strength in magic is mostly defensive, and her spells are barriers. Fire barriers could be many things: a fire, a line at which all melts, an area where the heat is so excessive no one can pass, and so on. Alfljót’s barriers burn all that touches is.
She’s unable to make a flame or melt anything. Her affinity could be said to be with “burning things”.
In Magecraft, they chant spells and mana is generally considered to be voice activated. The length of the spell often determines the strength of the spell, as well as the difficulty. One-word spells are considerably weaker than an incantation of four eight-word lines. But a weaker spell is also considered safer if it fails. Mages are primarily found chanting their spells in battle, and if a one-word spell fails, one can simply repeat it. If a weak spell fails, it seldom is harmful, as mana within oneself wasn’t activated, but the shorter the incantation, the larger margin of error there will be, meaning that an experienced Mage with weak spells rarely will ever fail their spells.
Another feature that often correlates to the length of the incantations is the range the spell can be used. Most short spells can only be used at a close range, while longer incantations tend to mean it can be used at a longer range. The cause of this is that the length of the spell will result in more control of the mana used and allow the mage to send it farther from themselves. It doesn’t mean a short spell can’t be ranged. If a mage can create a fireball, they can likely throw it, even if they can’t magically send it toward an enemy.
Now, not all mages use Magecraft. Battle Mages that fight at a close range often use Enhancements, a type of magic that will temporarily buff a weapon with an Element, or allow them to use some property of the Element they have an aptitude for. And those who know advanced Magecraft may be able to use Armament Magic as well, and can create equipment out of the Element instead of simply using one, though Armament Magic is a rare and difficult craft.
Magecraft is limited to spells that don’t need tools, vessels, or create tools. Though, to be considered Magecraft, they need to be at the very least harmful or make a relevant impact. In Wheltem they don’t consider Everyday Spells to be “magic”. While they use mana just as well, they seldom need to be taught. It’s not unusual these are learnt by chance and the spells circulate freely. Lightning a candle with a small flame, cooling a cup with something hot in it, working in the fields and being helped by a spell to sow seeds… These are all examples of everyday uses that aren’t “magic”. They are things the common folk are helped by and any mana users who know a spell or two aren’t anything special. Meanwhile, Magecraft has to be taught by someone who knows the craft, a Master or Mistress, and something they consider special and something only a few can, in fact, learn.
Anny is a project-juggling, self-publishing, excessively worldbuilding, mostly fantasy writer who wonders how they manage all their projects and responsibilities. Their main project consists of many standalone stories that loosely relate to each other and they’re working on publishing the first one, The Demon Realm. Their side projects are their two webnovels, When the World Falls, I’ll be Safe from the Wrath of God, and Beyond the Horizon. When they’re not writing or working on art, they write reviews, or listen (and sometimes ignore) to the demands of their howling cat or other, at times equally loud, family members.
Find Anny on Twitter@annyinacastle or their blog theannyblog.com.
I do hope you've enjoyed this week's Author Nook! Please remember to join the #AuthorNook discussion on Twitter every Tuesday and the blog post here every Sunday to read more from featured #WritingCommunity authors and artists. - Laken 🌹