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?Many peopleMagic is widespread and commonly studied; many magic-related organizations exist.
Nonhumans and MagicMany speciesMagic is a major part of biology on this world. Plants, animals etc. evolved to use it and can't live without it. Think of creatures that use spells to support their bodies, to sense their environment, or to reproduce.
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.
RitualPropsMagic requires having certain objects on hand, such as a staff. These can be stolen or destroyed... or secretly replaced.
Magic and TechnologyOne-way interferenceMagic makes technological devices mysteriously break, or the presence of any complex technology suppresses magic -- but not both. A mage is unlikely to also be a user of much technology.


The Drawbacks of Magic:
-Mana Level Falling: The world's level of magical power is declining, forcing people to fake their powers or find workarounds. This event is particularly disruptive if magic is tied to religion.
-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.

Special Aspects of Magic:
-Familiars: Daemon -- A "familiar" is intimately linked to, or created from, a mage's soul. It can probably talk and use magic itself, and is intelligent.
-Power Storage: Living things -- Many living things store magical energy in their bodies... but how do you get it out? And does it actually get generated by them, or are they absorbing it from somewhere?

Theme / Elements of Magic:
These are the main actions and substances that magic works with.
Transform / Destroy / Create: Elemental: Space/Time/Matter/Energy


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. Magic is widespread and commonly studied; many magic-related organizations exist. Magic is a major part of biology on this world. Plants, animals etc. evolved to use it and can't live without it. Think of creatures that use spells to support their bodies, to sense their environment, or to reproduce. 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. Magic requires having certain objects on hand, such as a staff. These can be stolen or destroyed... or secretly replaced. Magic makes technological devices mysteriously break, or the presence of any complex technology suppresses magic -- but not both. A mage is unlikely to also be a user of much technology.

Drawbacks of magic: The world's level of magical power is declining, forcing people to fake their powers or find workarounds. This event is particularly disruptive if magic is tied to religion. 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.

Other notes: A "familiar" is intimately linked to, or created from, a mage's soul. It can probably talk and use magic itself, and is intelligent. Many living things store magical energy in their bodies... but how do you get it out? And does it actually get generated by them, or are they absorbing it from somewhere?

Theme: Transform / Destroy / Create: Elemental: Space/Time/Matter/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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