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?MajorMagic is a big part of how the world works. There may be whole industries that rely on it. If mages themselves are rare, they're probably busy crafting magic items or working on big projects.
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?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.
FormalityDiscrete spellsMagic is divided into standard "spells" like "Fireball," with fairly consistent power levels and effects. Inventing new effects is a long, hard process and often worth getting the new spell named after yourself.
RitualMental effortUsing magic can be done with a thought, with little mental or physical effort.
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:
-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"...
-Silly Curse: Magic has embarassing and unpredictable side effects, eg. making one's clothes vanish, causing bad breath, or summoning harmless but annoying spirits. Maybe they're pranks by the gods.

Special Aspects of Magic:
-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?
-Group Effects: Synergistic effects -- Mages are especially powerful when working together.

Theme / Elements of Magic:
These are the main actions and substances that magic works with.
Heal / Destroy: Plant


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 a big part of how the world works. There may be whole industries that rely on it. If mages themselves are rare, they're probably busy crafting magic items or working on big projects. 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? 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. Magic is divided into standard "spells" like "Fireball," with fairly consistent power levels and effects. Inventing new effects is a long, hard process and often worth getting the new spell named after yourself. Using magic can be done with a thought, with little mental or physical effort. 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: 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"... Magic has embarassing and unpredictable side effects, eg. making one's clothes vanish, causing bad breath, or summoning harmless but annoying spirits. Maybe they're pranks by the gods.

Other notes: 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? Mages are especially powerful when working together.

Theme: Heal / Destroy: Plant

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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