A couple months ago a bud of mine sent me a link on “Magic Systems with Rothfuss, Butcher, Wells, Cole, Sykes, Blackmoore - Phoenix Comicon 2014”. You can find the link here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9H7NSqJsnM (It's the same link attached below too.) Before you click on the link let me warn you. Although this is a really great clip with some really useful information, watching it messed me up in all kinds of ways for about two weeks before I got my head straight once again on my own magic system in The Last Paladin Series.
I really found a lot of what Jim Butcher was saying in this very interesting, which compared to everyone else on the panel wasn’t much. For me the most important thing he noted was how magic was done in Lord of The Rings. How you knew Gandalf was a wizard and that he worked magic, but there was an unknown quality to his actual skills and abilities. It’s on this topic I would like to expound on in today’s blog. Another consistent topic from each of the panelists that I thought was extremely important was that whatever it is you choose for a magic system, make sure you consistently apply it throughout your story.
I noticed that Jim Butcher in his Dresden Series follows some rules for general magic use in some regards, while each wizard is unique in their own skills and talents that make magic … well magical. It’s not 100% spelled out. You have an understanding of the general rules the world and magic follows, but there is some wiggle room … some play that Jim uses within his stories that in the end fit the magic system in place, or at least doesn’t go against it. I forget the specific book in the series, but I remember the warden wars against the vampires that each wizard was distinctly different. It was all explainable within the rules Jim had created for his world, but at the same time that slight looseness with the magic system allowed an element of surprise that fits, in my mind, the feel of magic.
If I think back to many of the stories I read, even the D&D stories. They’ve operated magic in this duel perspective. In one way you think you know the skills of the character and the rules of the world, while in another there is a certain looseness that works within the worlds rules. The interesting part of the D&D universe is that many of the clerics, shamans and wizards have specific rules laid out for each class, which are used as guidelines. Yet within the story the authors creates flexibility within the magic system that is more living and realistic. Instead of saying that a wizard can caste ‘magic missiles’ four times in a day, you focus on the energy output of the character or the exhaustion from using their magic. Maybe they can squeeze out another spell and collapse or maybe they’re just wiped out. The rules that you make for your world should advance your story, not restrict your story. You’re not creating a gaming system, you’re creating a story and world that supports the story that you want to tell.
In many ways this refers back to my last blog post about world building and planning out your story. Don’t get too caught up in the details of your world that you stop writing or that those rules bog your story down to the point that it interferes with the story you’re telling.
Again, just my two cents of my own explorations in creating a magic system for my own series. I borrowed heavy on traditional concepts of Paladins and Clerics. Traditional being D&D, computer games like World of Warcraft, Rift, Everquest, The Elder Scrolls, Guild Wars, Lineage and etc. They all build on the general concepts of these old D&D stereotypes, which I think is a good place to start on formulating any magic system. Although I’m not saying don’t create something entirely new. There are some amazing writers who do this. I’m just saying, whatever you do. Give it your own twist and keep it consistent in your world, leave a little flexibility for it to feel natural and real, but most importantly make sure it gives you the room to tell your amazing story.