|“Elemental Evolution” by bdotward.|
This is part of an ongoing series about worldbuilding.
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I have to be honest: I am running out of steam with this series. So today, if you don’t mind, I’m gonna be a little bit lazy.
If you’re writing fantasy, read this article by Brandon Sanderson, if you haven’t already. (And here is a continuation of the concepts in that article.) I think it’s the best I’ve come across on the topic of magic systems and will be basing the rest of this post on it.
What kind of magic system(s) have you worked with?
I’ve been experimenting with what Brandon Sanderson calls a “middle ground” magic system, with an emphasis on the soft side. There are no fancy spells or long drawn-out rules, though there is consistency. There is some explanation as to how it all works, but I generally want it to be a mystery to readers. An elementalist can only use their powers if their element is present in their surroundings. (And in the case of fire-wielders, they must use matches or lighters to produce and work with a flame until they’ve become advanced enough to make things “spontaneously combust.”)
However, because I’m using a “softer” system, I tend not to use magic to get my characters out of a tight fix, as Brandon’s article talks about. If they win a battle it isn’t always because they were better elementalists. It’s usually because they were smarter about the way they used their abilities and/or their environment or had some other skill which gave them an edge. (They aren’t at all like your all-powerful Jedi Knights. Well, with the exception of two secondary characters, but they’re just extreme freaks of nature–exceptional elementalists at their prime.) Maybe they even had the element of surprise.
(The biggest problems in Element 7 cannot be solved with magic anyway because they are problems of human nature. The ability of those few who are able to manipulate the elements is one of the greatest problems in the first place. How do you live in a world beside people with such an ability? Could it ever be safe?)
These are the kind of things I like to consider before I decide to use magic.
How about you? If you are writing fantasy, what kind of magic system do you use?