Magic System:
The following is a set of notes on a randomly-generated fictional magic system -- that is, a set of beliefs and practices about magic -- designed for a fantasy/science fiction setting such as a story or game. It can be wholly or partly true in the context of that setting, or just help to stimulate further ideas. The words "mage" and "mundane" refer to anyone who can or can't use magic, respectively; exactly what "magic" means is the point of this exercise. This generator program is meant as a reaction to fantasy settings like those of "Final Fantasy," "Lord of the Rings," and old-school "Dungeons and Dragons," and what are now cliched representations of magic. Let's come up with something new and creative for our own work!

The notes below may seem inconsistent, but that's a hint that something's inaccurate about them -- people's beliefs are wrong, or the situation is changing due to new discoveries, or you should re-interpret one comment in light of others.

This program's output is public-domain; use it freely. The program itself is by Kris Schnee.

The Nature of Magic:
Where Magic Comes FromPhysicsMagic is part of the way the universe works, and can be studied scientifically.
How Powerful Is It?MinorMagic can be a useful supplement to normal physical effort, eg. reinforcing a wall that's been built with solid mundane engineering.
Who Has Magic?Few peopleMages are rare and feared for their power. Governments want mages either working for them, or dead.
Nonhumans and MagicCertain speciesWhole species of creatures exist that can use magic, or that even depend on it.
How Is It Gotten?TrainingMagic requires long, hard study and practice. Those who can train mages have a great deal of influence, and may confuse the necessary skills with superstitious rituals -- or ones that encourage loyalty.
FormalityChaoticMagic seems to vary so much among people, times and places that it's hard to describe or study in a consistent way. Magical instruction focuses on how to find useful patterns in one's own magic.
RitualQuick ritualMagic requires a short series of actions that makes it obvious the mage is doing something and that can be disrupted, eg. a seconds-long dance or chant or a blatant aura-of-powering-up.
Magic and TechnologyMutual interferenceMagic and technology badly disrupt each other. Bringing a simple good-luck charm near a helicopter would make it crash, and gods help you if you trick a kitsune into approaching a nanotech lab.


The Drawbacks of Magic:
-Limit: Data: It's important for a mage to keep certain recorded data handy, the way a Rennaissance navigator needed a book of astronomical measurements and a good clock to calculate latitude.
-Stigma: Unclean: Everybody knows... Magic is a dirty thing that no decent person would touch.

Special Aspects of Magic:
-Enchanted Items: Mundane only -- Only non-mages can use magic items!

Theme / Elements of Magic:
These are the main actions and substances that magic works with.
Control: Sand, and Writing/Art.


A plainly-formatted version of these notes you can copy elsewhere:-- Magic System --
Magic is part of the way the universe works, and can be studied scientifically. Magic can be a useful supplement to normal physical effort, eg. reinforcing a wall that's been built with solid mundane engineering. Mages are rare and feared for their power. Governments want mages either working for them, or dead. Whole species of creatures exist that can use magic, or that even depend on it. Magic requires long, hard study and practice. Those who can train mages have a great deal of influence, and may confuse the necessary skills with superstitious rituals -- or ones that encourage loyalty. Magic seems to vary so much among people, times and places that it's hard to describe or study in a consistent way. Magical instruction focuses on how to find useful patterns in one's own magic. Magic requires a short series of actions that makes it obvious the mage is doing something and that can be disrupted, eg. a seconds-long dance or chant or a blatant aura-of-powering-up. Magic and technology badly disrupt each other. Bringing a simple good-luck charm near a helicopter would make it crash, and gods help you if you trick a kitsune into approaching a nanotech lab.

Drawbacks of magic: It's important for a mage to keep certain recorded data handy, the way a Rennaissance navigator needed a book of astronomical measurements and a good clock to calculate latitude. Everybody knows... Magic is a dirty thing that no decent person would touch.

Other notes: Only non-mages can use magic items!

Theme: Control: Sand, and Writing/Art.

Links:
Seventh Sanctum: A collection of random content generators like this.
World Tree, an RPG with a great setting and detailed magic system.
Ars Magica: An RPG with a detailed magic system, especially re: familiars. A version of it's available for free.
Rym: A detailed fantasy/sci-fi RPG setting, maddeningly incomplete, with an emphasis on magical technology.

Other Suggested Reading:
Steve Jackson Games' "GURPS" books (fictional background on many topics, Religion is an especially good one), Stephen Pinker's "How the Mind Works" (a readable guide to a lot of real mysteries), E.O. Wilson's "Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge" (the universals of human culture), and Carl Sagan's "The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle In the Dark" (re: why people believe the things they do).

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