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 MagicCertain speciesWhole species of creatures exist that can use magic, or that even depend on it.
How Is It Gotten?WorshipPower comes from the gods or spirits, who must be placated on a regular basis. If someone displeases them, is it possible for the gods/spirits to revoke their gift?
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.
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 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:
-Mages' Weakness: All heavy magic users have a particular weakness, such as silver, iron or magical wards.
-Transformation: A mage slowly transforms into an animal or magical creature from contact with magic. This can range from horrifying (if it comes with a mental change, shortened lifespan and big teeth) to amusing or even pleasant (for a partial change into something cool).

Special Aspects of Magic:
-Power Storage: Ritual items -- Certain objects are natural sources of magic energy or useful as batteries. Mages might be over-dependent on foreign crystals, and threatening to drill for mana in endangered dragon preserves.

Theme / Elements of Magic:
These are the main actions and substances that magic works with.
Control / Sustain / Transform: Earth, and Stone.


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. Whole species of creatures exist that can use magic, or that even depend on it. Power comes from the gods or spirits, who must be placated on a regular basis. If someone displeases them, is it possible for the gods/spirits to revoke their gift? 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. 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? 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: All heavy magic users have a particular weakness, such as silver, iron or magical wards. A mage slowly transforms into an animal or magical creature from contact with magic. This can range from horrifying (if it comes with a mental change, shortened lifespan and big teeth) to amusing or even pleasant (for a partial change into something cool).

Other notes: Certain objects are natural sources of magic energy or useful as batteries. Mages might be over-dependent on foreign crystals, and threatening to drill for mana in endangered dragon preserves.

Theme: Control / Sustain / Transform: Earth, and Stone.

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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