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 FromDisruption of physicsMagic works by selectively breaking physical laws, which might disrupt technology. What would cause this effect to exist?
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 MagicHumans onlyFor some reason, humans (humanoids) are the only species that uses magic. Is this evidence of the nature of the human soul, or something to do with intelligence or the brain?
How Is It Gotten?WorshipPower comes from the gods or spirits, who must be placated on a regular basis. If someone displeases them, is it possible for the gods/spirits to revoke their gift?
FormalityVersatileThere are standard methods of achieving certain magical effects ("This is how you create ice..."), but a good mage can use magic to do any specific thing they can think of, within their power, without having to invent a rigidly-defined recipe for it.
RitualLong ritualGreat preparation goes into most magic, with fragile props and lots of opportunity for the mage to be interrupted in various ways. Can a mage step aside and have an assistant fill in during a ritual? What happens if someone wanders into the magic circle?
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:
-Stigma: Evil: Everybody knows... Mages work with evil forces and are bad people.
-Backlash: Magic is prone to backfiring, which can mean the mage being hit by their own harmful spells, "mana burned," or having beneficial spells go badly wrong.

Special Aspects of Magic:
-Enchanted Items: Mundane only -- Only non-mages can use magic items!
-Group Effects: Specific numbers -- Specific numbers of people have major effects on spells. Eg., the Great Mage had seven followers, so all the spells he designed require exactly seven assistants to cast.

Theme / Elements of Magic:
These are the main actions and substances that magic works with.
Perceive / Heal / Sustain: Summoning, Mind, and Space.


A plainly-formatted version of these notes you can copy elsewhere:-- Magic System --
Magic works by selectively breaking physical laws, which might disrupt technology. What would cause this effect to exist? 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. For some reason, humans (humanoids) are the only species that uses magic. Is this evidence of the nature of the human soul, or something to do with intelligence or the brain? Power comes from the gods or spirits, who must be placated on a regular basis. If someone displeases them, is it possible for the gods/spirits to revoke their gift? There are standard methods of achieving certain magical effects ("This is how you create ice..."), but a good mage can use magic to do any specific thing they can think of, within their power, without having to invent a rigidly-defined recipe for it. Great preparation goes into most magic, with fragile props and lots of opportunity for the mage to be interrupted in various ways. Can a mage step aside and have an assistant fill in during a ritual? What happens if someone wanders into the magic circle? 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: Everybody knows... Mages work with evil forces and are bad people. Magic is prone to backfiring, which can mean the mage being hit by their own harmful spells, "mana burned," or having beneficial spells go badly wrong.

Other notes: Only non-mages can use magic items! Specific numbers of people have major effects on spells. Eg., the Great Mage had seven followers, so all the spells he designed require exactly seven assistants to cast.

Theme: Perceive / Heal / Sustain: Summoning, Mind, and Space.

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).

Back to Generators Page