Brooke Shaffer

Author, Gamer, and Cat-Collector Extraordinaire

World Building: Magic and Sorcery

Welcome back to the series on World Building. Today we’re going to cover magic and sorcery. While not appropriate to every story, I still wanted to include it for completeness. And even if you don't have wizards and spells, it may apply elsewhere. I would place Time in this realm, for example.

Magic and sorcery tend to be more niche in their usage, and because it’s, well, magic, it can be hard to say that something is or is not believable and worthy of being in a story. And it can be nigh impossible to tell a creator “you can’t do that.”

So we’re going to draw on a few aspects from other installments in order to craft our magic system.

First, how did your people discover magic? Just as important as what the magic is, is how the magic came to be. Was it a divine gift? An accidental discovery? Is it passed down from mentor to student—or perhaps parent to child—and the system is so old that no one knows exactly where it originated? Is the origin of your magic common knowledge for even the youngest of children? Is the origin forbidden to know about except at the very highest level of mastery? What are the facts and myths of your origin of magic?

In the Timekeeper Chronicles, among humans, no one really knows who the first human Time Agent was. Daniele Ivolo was the oldest known Terran Time Agent, a bona fide Roman soldier, and the Tacagans were descended from the ancient Greeks, but no one can pinpoint just who the first human Time Agent was. It’s just one of those things lost to history.

Having an origin story—whether true or not within your story—helps to craft the limits of your magic. If magic was given to your people by a fire god, then one might expect that water magic isn’t in the common magician’s repertoire. If your people discovered magic through the use of an artifact, then it would be reasonable to think that the magic is dependent upon various charms and talismans.

So what are the limits of your magic? What do your people expect to do with the magic? Can a common magician overpower the free will of others? What about animals and lesser beings? Can he manipulate the weather and the turn of the planet? How far-reaching are the effects of such things? Can he influence the passage of time? Can he perform alchemy, turn lead into gold? Can he even find his own lost car keys?

For the Time industry, each discipline has its limits. Timekeeping doesn’t leave the realm of Time, while Harvesting can touch into Matter. For Akari-bearers, the most talented may appear to have the power of God to bend the universe to their will in Time, Matter, and Energy, but even they are bound by the laws of physics as well as the word of the Author.

Knowing these outer limits of your magic, what rules may be in place governing the use of magic? Who decides which magic is good and bad to use? Who decides the rules? What punishment is there for breaking the rules? How are rule-breakers treated by society? What if there were no rules? Are there any precautions that must be taken when punishing someone who can use magic?

In the Time industry, Time Agents are governed by the Laws of Time. If someone breaks a law, the Timekeeper apprehends the offending party and takes them before the Grandfathers for prosecution. The various cells are outfitted according to the species and their Time abilities. For the Akarin, their justice system is much simpler. An offender is taken to a cell. If they escape, it is deemed to be innocence declared by the will of the Author. This does not mean that someone who doesn’t escape is automatically guilty, but it is considered a weeding process.

How accessible is magic to the common people? Is it so common it’s barely considered “magic” but just another tool in one’s daily arsenal? Is it exclusive access, reserved for those who demonstrate a certain sign or talent or perhaps only those who can bribe a master to teach a new student?

Among humans, Time and the Akari are kept as secret as possible, with ninety-nine percent of exposures being purely accidental. For the Borelians, many high-ranking officials may know of the existence of Time, but only the highest military and political officials train in it to any proficient degree. Meanwhile, the Psiaco are renowned for their Time Academies, and they test all of their children to determine their Time prowess.

With the origins and limits outlined, let’s color in the box. What can your magic do? Are there different disciplines? What are the first tricks a new student learns? How does it help them to build up to other abilities later? How are abilities learned? Through incantations or other texts? Through intense study? Meditation? What are some of the sillier things they might learn? What kinds of things might they beg to learn from a “big brother” of sorts? What are some of the more difficult aspects to master? What are some of the most difficult tricks? What kinds of tricks would make someone stand out as a master magician?

In Timekeeping, the first thing any new Timekeeper learns is Banding, basic Fast and Slow Bands. More precise fine-tuning allows for Double-Banding, Pinpoint Banding, External Bands, and others. Being able to build and control multiple Bands may not be terribly difficult necessarily, but it is extremely taxing. Smaller party tricks include things like Predict. Opening portals is not taught until he reaches Journeyman rank, and even then he cannot do it on his own until he becomes a Master. Many abilities are learned for the first time while under stress.

For Akari-bearers, especially those from a Timekeeping background, manipulation of one’s DNA and using Disguises is one of the first things learned because it is something that students can use to see immediate results. Energy abilities, especially those involving fire, are some of the most dangerous and most advanced lessons for the regular user. Beyond that is Building, a discipline that is quite exclusive.

Next, is there anything in your magic that is considered dark or forbidden? Are these specific abilities or more generalized? Why is it forbidden? Are there specific reasons, or simply because such things “some consider to be unnatural”? Is there a history or tale behind it? Is there a way to tell if someone may be prone to being tempted by the dark? What happens if someone decides to pursue these forbidden arts? What is considered the point of no return? How are these students of forbidden arts treated or dealt with?

In the Time industry, the Akari is considered a heretical abomination, no matter who it is or their intentions. On the whole, there is a bit of a “don’t ask don’t tell” or “live and let live” philosophy, though there is a hostile undercurrent about it. Meanwhile, for the Akarin, they consider “forbidden arts” as those, such as the Cult, who proclaim to use the Akari and yet use a false Akari. While few specifics are given as to how to distinguish one Akari from another (from an outside perspective), converts claim that it is more of a spiritual intuition.

What is the role of a magician in your society at large? Are they shunned and constantly on the run? Are witches and wizards burned at the stake? Are they revered? Do they hold high political or military office? Are they average people? Do they hold specific jobs based on their type of magic? Would a water magician be a good person to call for plumbing problems? Would a fire magician be first pick for a firefighter? Could a magician proficient in teleportation be hired as a transportation director?

Among humans, Timekeepers are typically drawn toward professions of safety. Having the ability to slow or stop Time in order to potentially save someone’s life is a great asset. Meanwhile, Harvesters tend to be on the opposite end of the spectrum, drawn toward professions dealing with the sick and dying so they might Harvest as much Potential Time as possible.

For the Turitians, Time is useful in political negotiations. Turitians are known as a very thorough, very patient people, but others are not so understanding. Having the ability to make more time to discuss things amongst themselves comes in handy.

Magic tends to be a broad subject and can encompass a number of different disciplines based on the plot and imagination of the author. But I think the questions and examples in this discussion are sufficient to get you thinking about your system of magic. While magic and sorcery can be a fun flavor to add to your plot, there should still be some logic behind it or else it turns into a perpetual deus ex machina.

The next installment is going to be, technically, the second to last, or the last with another bonus piece after it, and it deals in Language and Communication, with a bonus Conlanging bit. Until next time.

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