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?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 MagicCertain speciesWhole species of creatures exist that can use magic, or that even depend on it.
How Is It Gotten?TrainingMagic requires long, hard study and practice. Those who can train mages have a great deal of influence, and may confuse the necessary skills with superstitious rituals -- or ones that encourage loyalty.
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 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:
-Limit: Number of Spells: A mage only has access to a limited set of powers at any one time, out of a larger potential set. This may be due to incompatibility of some magic items, mental states, times of year etc..
-Stigma: Damned: Everybody knows... Mages are going straight to Hell for their wicked lifestyle.

Special Aspects of Magic:
-Enchanted Items: Obligatory -- The main way to use magic is to make enchanted items, rather than casting spells directly.
-Group Effects: Partial interference -- Mages casting spells near each other tend to interfere with each other, maybe due to the local spirits being too busy or ambient mana getting used up. There may be an organization devoted to minimizing this interference -- and incidentally, controlling what kinds of spells have priority.

Theme / Elements of Magic:
These are the main actions and substances that magic works with.
Sustain / Destroy / Heal: Sound/Music, and Order.


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. 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. Whole species of creatures exist that can use magic, or that even depend on it. Magic requires long, hard study and practice. Those who can train mages have a great deal of influence, and may confuse the necessary skills with superstitious rituals -- or ones that encourage loyalty. 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. 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: A mage only has access to a limited set of powers at any one time, out of a larger potential set. This may be due to incompatibility of some magic items, mental states, times of year etc.. Everybody knows... Mages are going straight to Hell for their wicked lifestyle.

Other notes: The main way to use magic is to make enchanted items, rather than casting spells directly. Mages casting spells near each other tend to interfere with each other, maybe due to the local spirits being too busy or ambient mana getting used up. There may be an organization devoted to minimizing this interference -- and incidentally, controlling what kinds of spells have priority.

Theme: Sustain / Destroy / Heal: Sound/Music, and Order.

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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