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?Barely noticableMagic is so subtle that skeptics don't believe it exists at all. The true believers happen to be right in this case.
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?BirthrightMagic comes with a certain bloodline, ethnicity, or humanoid species. Racism is justified in one sense.
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.
RitualQuick ritualMagic requires a short series of actions that makes it obvious the mage is doing something and that can be disrupted, eg. a seconds-long dance or chant or a blatant aura-of-powering-up.
Magic and TechnologySpecific suppressionA particular type of magic plays havoc with machines (the Summon Gremlin spell?), and/or a specific technology (a mana vaccuum?) suppresses magic.


The Drawbacks of Magic:
-Insanity: Magic tends to drive its users mad, and the most powerful mages are also the ones who are completely nuts. Not good.
-Stigma: Perverted: Everybody knows... Mages are perverts. What sick person would manipulate reality the way they do?

Special Aspects of Magic:
-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?
-Group Effects: Total interference -- There's an "observer effect" such that magic only works when no one else is looking! Hopefully this applies to the casting itself, and not to the EFFECT of that levitation spell! In a world like ours where magic doesn't exist, this is sometimes used as an excuse for why magic doesn't work when a scientist or skeptic tries to test it.

Theme / Elements of Magic:
These are the main actions and substances that magic works with.
Heal: Crystal, Matter, and Meta-Magic.


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 so subtle that skeptics don't believe it exists at all. The true believers happen to be right in this case. 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. Magic comes with a certain bloodline, ethnicity, or humanoid species. Racism is justified in one sense. 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. Magic requires a short series of actions that makes it obvious the mage is doing something and that can be disrupted, eg. a seconds-long dance or chant or a blatant aura-of-powering-up. A particular type of magic plays havoc with machines (the Summon Gremlin spell?), and/or a specific technology (a mana vaccuum?) suppresses magic.

Drawbacks of magic: Magic tends to drive its users mad, and the most powerful mages are also the ones who are completely nuts. Not good. Everybody knows... Mages are perverts. What sick person would manipulate reality the way they do?

Other notes: 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? There's an "observer effect" such that magic only works when no one else is looking! Hopefully this applies to the casting itself, and not to the EFFECT of that levitation spell! In a world like ours where magic doesn't exist, this is sometimes used as an excuse for why magic doesn't work when a scientist or skeptic tries to test it.

Theme: Heal: Crystal, Matter, and Meta-Magic.

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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