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 FromSpiritsSupernatural beings within the universe lend their aid to certain people; are these beings intelligent, and what are their motives if so?
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?No oneIt's unheard of for anyone to have magic nowadays, but in legends and prophecies there are exceptions... There may also be magical artifacts or creatures that mundane humans can find.
Nonhumans and MagicRare creaturesA few strange creatures like dragons exist that can use magic.
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.
FormalityImprovisedThere are distinct, named "spells," but it's possible to combine and modify them in various ways.
RitualPropsMagic requires having certain objects on hand, such as a staff. These can be stolen or destroyed... or secretly replaced.
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:
-Synecdoche: Spells require some sort of mystic link to the target, such as a lock of their hair.
-Expensive Ingredients: Magic requires expensive spell components, drugs, or sacrifices that must be replaced frequently or are hard or illegal to get.

Special Aspects of Magic:
-Familiars: Necessary -- Using most magic actually requires creating a "familiar," which can have major effects on the magic itself, the market for them, and the mage's personal life.

Theme / Elements of Magic:
These are the main actions and substances that magic works with.
Sustain / Create / Transform: Energy, and Water.


A plainly-formatted version of these notes you can copy elsewhere:-- Magic System --
Supernatural beings within the universe lend their aid to certain people; are these beings intelligent, and what are their motives if so? Magic can be a useful supplement to normal physical effort, eg. reinforcing a wall that's been built with solid mundane engineering. It's unheard of for anyone to have magic nowadays, but in legends and prophecies there are exceptions... There may also be magical artifacts or creatures that mundane humans can find. A few strange creatures like dragons exist that can use magic. 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. There are distinct, named "spells," but it's possible to combine and modify them in various ways. Magic requires having certain objects on hand, such as a staff. These can be stolen or destroyed... or secretly replaced. 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: Spells require some sort of mystic link to the target, such as a lock of their hair. Magic requires expensive spell components, drugs, or sacrifices that must be replaced frequently or are hard or illegal to get.

Other notes: Using most magic actually requires creating a "familiar," which can have major effects on the magic itself, the market for them, and the mage's personal life.

Theme: Sustain / Create / Transform: Energy, and Water.

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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