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?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 MagicHumans onlyFor some reason, humans (humanoids) are the only species that uses magic. Is this evidence of the nature of the human soul, or something to do with intelligence or the brain?
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.
RitualWords and gesturesA small physical effort is needed for magic; a mage who can't do some physical thing (stereotypically, talk or move their hands) is hampered.
Magic and TechnologySynergyThe only thing better than a giant robot is an ENCHANTED giant robot. Students study magic with an electronic device known as a Speak 'n Spell.


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.
-Limit: Morality: A mage must obey a strict set of personal moral rules or risk temporarily or permanently losing their power. Eg., a vow of vegetarianism or poverty. The rules aren't necessarily what we'd call "virtuous"...

Special Aspects of Magic:
-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.
Create / Sustain / Control: Reversal, and Fire.


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. 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. For some reason, humans (humanoids) are the only species that uses magic. Is this evidence of the nature of the human soul, or something to do with intelligence or the brain? 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. A small physical effort is needed for magic; a mage who can't do some physical thing (stereotypically, talk or move their hands) is hampered. The only thing better than a giant robot is an ENCHANTED giant robot. Students study magic with an electronic device known as a Speak 'n Spell.

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. A mage must obey a strict set of personal moral rules or risk temporarily or permanently losing their power. Eg., a vow of vegetarianism or poverty. The rules aren't necessarily what we'd call "virtuous"...

Other notes: 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: Create / Sustain / Control: Reversal, and Fire.

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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