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?Non-existantMagic doesn't really exist! Everything below is a lie, a delusion -- but people believe it anyway! Look at the profusion of magical beliefs in the real world for evidence that this is possible. Even though it's fake, it can have major social effects.
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.
FormalityImprovisedThere are distinct, named "spells," but it's possible to combine and modify them in various ways.
RitualMental effortUsing magic can be done with a thought, with little mental or physical effort.
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:
-Limit: Geography: Magic is tied to particular places or types of terrain, such as holy sites or mountaintops.
-Careful What You Wish For: Magic is very sensitive to detail; getting a spell even slightly wrong can be disasterous.

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.
-Enchanted Items: Temporary -- It's possible to put spells temporarily into/onto physical objects for later use.

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


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 doesn't really exist! Everything below is a lie, a delusion -- but people believe it anyway! Look at the profusion of magical beliefs in the real world for evidence that this is possible. Even though it's fake, it can have major social effects. 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. There are distinct, named "spells," but it's possible to combine and modify them in various ways. Using magic can be done with a thought, with little mental or physical effort. 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: Magic is tied to particular places or types of terrain, such as holy sites or mountaintops. Magic is very sensitive to detail; getting a spell even slightly wrong can be disasterous.

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. It's possible to put spells temporarily into/onto physical objects for later use.

Theme: Sustain / Destroy / Perceive: Sand, Machine, 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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