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?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?Few peopleMages are rare and feared for their power. Governments want mages either working for them, or dead.
Nonhumans and MagicRare creaturesA few strange creatures like dragons exist that can use magic.
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.
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 TechnologyOne-way interferenceMagic makes technological devices mysteriously break, or the presence of any complex technology suppresses magic -- but not both. A mage is unlikely to also be a user of much technology.


The Drawbacks of Magic:
-Spooky: Magic spooks nearby mundane animals and maybe even people, giving them a vague sense that something is wrong.
-Calculation: Magic requires some difficult mental gymnastics, something like poetic composition or mathematics. Not everyone is good at it.

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.
Control: Sun, and Water.


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 the world's technology. It's used for all sorts of common, ordinary tasks: locking doors, cutting wood, fetching water. Mages are rare and feared for their power. Governments want mages either working for them, or dead. A few strange creatures like dragons exist that can use magic. 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. 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 makes technological devices mysteriously break, or the presence of any complex technology suppresses magic -- but not both. A mage is unlikely to also be a user of much technology.

Drawbacks of magic: Magic spooks nearby mundane animals and maybe even people, giving them a vague sense that something is wrong. Magic requires some difficult mental gymnastics, something like poetic composition or mathematics. Not everyone is good at it.

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: Control: Sun, and Water.

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).

Back to Generators Page