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?MajorMagic is a big part of how the world works. There may be whole industries that rely on it. If mages themselves are rare, they're probably busy crafting magic items or working on big projects.
Who Has Magic?EveryoneMagic is truly democratic! It's so common that people use it in their daily lives, debate it in politics, and study it in school. Magic may be part of the biology of the people's bodies.
Nonhumans and MagicRare creaturesA few strange creatures like dragons exist that can use magic.
How Is It Gotten?RandomSome people can use magic better than others, and it's not clear how or why. Their existence baffles scientists and philosophers, who seek a more satisfying explanation.
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.
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:
-Limit: Isolation: Magic is most powerful when the user is alone.
-Stigma: Unclean: Everybody knows... Magic is a dirty thing that no decent person would touch.

Special Aspects of Magic:
-Power Storage: People power -- The human body stores a certain amount of magical power. Does it regenerate over time, or is there something else that needs to be done? Can mundane people store energy for mages?
-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.
Sustain / Create: Sand, Sound/Music, and Energy.


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 is a big part of how the world works. There may be whole industries that rely on it. If mages themselves are rare, they're probably busy crafting magic items or working on big projects. Magic is truly democratic! It's so common that people use it in their daily lives, debate it in politics, and study it in school. Magic may be part of the biology of the people's bodies. A few strange creatures like dragons exist that can use magic. Some people can use magic better than others, and it's not clear how or why. Their existence baffles scientists and philosophers, who seek a more satisfying explanation. 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. 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: Magic is most powerful when the user is alone. Everybody knows... Magic is a dirty thing that no decent person would touch.

Other notes: The human body stores a certain amount of magical power. Does it regenerate over time, or is there something else that needs to be done? Can mundane people store energy for mages? 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: Sustain / Create: Sand, Sound/Music, and Energy.

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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