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?DominantMagic IS the world's technology. It's used for all sorts of common, ordinary tasks: locking doors, cutting wood, fetching water.
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 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.
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 TechnologyCompatibleMagic and technology don't interact much at all; there are no specific magic/tech hybrids.


The Drawbacks of Magic:
-Secret: Certain magical secrets must not be revealed. This may be a mystical taboo, or part of a guild mentality -- the Mages' Protective Association of Arcadia tries to suppress those illegal spell-traders.
-Blind Spot: Magic seems to be missing a major type of effect that you'd think it would have; eg. an elemental system without fire magic. There may be workarounds, eg. creating wood plus intense light.

Special Aspects of Magic:
-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.
Perceive / Sustain / Control: Reversal, Life, 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 the world's technology. It's used for all sorts of common, ordinary tasks: locking doors, cutting wood, fetching water. 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. 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 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 don't interact much at all; there are no specific magic/tech hybrids.

Drawbacks of magic: Certain magical secrets must not be revealed. This may be a mystical taboo, or part of a guild mentality -- the Mages' Protective Association of Arcadia tries to suppress those illegal spell-traders. Magic seems to be missing a major type of effect that you'd think it would have; eg. an elemental system without fire magic. There may be workarounds, eg. creating wood plus intense light.

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

Theme: Perceive / Sustain / Control: Reversal, Life, 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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