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 FromGod(s)One or more powerful supernatural beings outside the universe grant certain people a part of their power to alter reality... but why?
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?Few peopleMages are rare and feared for their power. Governments want mages either working for them, or dead.
Nonhumans and MagicCertain speciesWhole species of creatures exist that can use magic, or that even depend on it.
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 TechnologyCompatibleMagic and technology don't interact much at all; there are no specific magic/tech hybrids.


The Drawbacks of Magic:
-Elemental Aura: The types of magical energy the mage works with surround them for a while after use. Air mages find papers fluttering around them, life mages find themselves *ahem* eager to start families, and summoners find magical creatures drawn to them unbidden.
-Stigma: Unclean: Everybody knows... Magic is a dirty thing that no decent person would touch.

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.
-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.
Create: Communication, Spirit, and Elemental: Space/Time/Matter/Energy.


A plainly-formatted version of these notes you can copy elsewhere:-- Magic System --
One or more powerful supernatural beings outside the universe grant certain people a part of their power to alter reality... but why? Magic is so subtle that skeptics don't believe it exists at all. The true believers happen to be right in this case. Mages are rare and feared for their power. Governments want mages either working for them, or dead. Whole species of creatures exist that can use magic, or that even depend on it. 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 and technology don't interact much at all; there are no specific magic/tech hybrids.

Drawbacks of magic: The types of magical energy the mage works with surround them for a while after use. Air mages find papers fluttering around them, life mages find themselves *ahem* eager to start families, and summoners find magical creatures drawn to them unbidden. Everybody knows... Magic is a dirty thing that no decent person would touch.

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. 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: Create: Communication, Spirit, and 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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