View Full Version : Non-scientific, non-linguistic magic system?

12-09-2012, 02:16 PM
I don't see a forum for worldbuilding questions that aren't about geography, so...

For several years, I've developed some strong goals for a magic system. I don't know what sort of world I want to put it in yet. Well, I suppose the world will develop based on how its magic works.

Most importantly, magic is not science. It does not look or feel like science. Not just real science, but any conceivable science.
This suggests that it should not be possible to discover or learn magic by trial and error. The obvious way is for magic to be non-reproducible. But than how can anyone learn to use it?
Also, I don't want "cast from mana pool" magic. There should be nothing like conservation of energy; magic should not be based on resource consumption. However, I don't want a skilled magician to have do-anything Power of Plot.

I don't want linguistic magic. That's always felt too much like something a writer would come up with rather than something that might "actually" exist. It's boring. I don't want the related concept of "like produces like". Why? Because the world was made by the gods, who do not classify things as humans do.
I'm reminded of an example I once saw concerning believable languages. An example satisfying at least some of my requirements is a world where a certain spell needs either a red bird or a blue flower as a spell component. Things grouped bizarrely. But how to do this without seeming just silly? And how to convince the reader that there is a method to it?

I don't want elemental magic. Like linguistic magic, it's based on human categorization of objects. Also, it's too easy to become arbitrarily powerful. I tend to refer to this as "Green Lantern powers". The power ring can make anything so long as it's green. Aside from this being too broad of a concept, he can make anything at all, because he's not even limited to making things that are naturally green. On a similar note, I once saw a mention on an RPG forum of a mage with fire powers. He could make anything burn, whether or not it was flammable. This sort of use defeats the concept of elemental powers.

12-09-2012, 02:37 PM
I am not too sure what you mean by "linguistic magic". And I have to disagree with your statement that it can't be learned by trial and error. The main reason is the the opposite of that (imo) is by rote. which to me implies repetition. Which conflicts with your next statement.

My thought as I read your post was a sort of magic where every spell is unique, and cannot be reproduced after being cast. Your power depends on your understanding of what has gone before and how to manipulate the nuances of power in different, sometimes very subtly different, ways. The beginner will not be subtle, but the master will see ALL the subtleties and therefore able to harness a lot more power, but is he completely sure that the spell he is casting now HASN'T been cast before?

Now, all that may be nice, but how you would put that into a game system I have no idea. Just where do you plan on using this system? Novel? RPG? Computer game? You will have to tailor it to where you use it.

12-09-2012, 03:12 PM
One of your assumptions is that magic comes from the gods. So the way to use magic might be to understand something of how a particular god thinks and use that as the starting point for a spell.

For example: The Prishtu god of honey and hospitality, Delgoran, is worshipped a mountain where a particular blue flower grows. Because Delgoran has an affinity for the flower, it can be used in a number of rituals and spells that provide comfort and shelter for people. In its simplest form, a common worshipper can hang a bundle of the flowers over their door to summon bees to fertilize their crops, but a portion of the yield must always be given away, preferably to a stranger or a cleric. A priest of Delgoran might use the flowers to make incense that creates a sense of peace and fellowship in everyone who breathes it. A magician might use the flowers' nectar in a potion that causes people to offer aid to the traveler who imbibes it. Herbalists also recommend an ointment made from moisture squeezed from the flower's stem as a treatment for bee stings.

I have a feeling I could really run with that!

12-09-2012, 03:47 PM
Linguistic magic: Control by knowing something's true name. Or magic based on metaphor. A wonderfully evocative (and so not what I want) example of the latter I've seen: You need a spell component. A more powerful mage can use something less literal.

An addition I forgot:

No chaos magic. That is, no ability to control probability. In principle, I like this, because it has a cool feel and some obvious limitations - you can't cause the physically impossible, only the improbable. However, in fiction, it's far too easy to turn this into pure plot device magic. "The Emperor holds the Scepter of the Gods. He can't be defeated as long as he holds it. Not because it makes his armies invincible in a fight. Rather, because it prevents anyone from attacking him directly. Not mind control, either. They just won't." Chaos magic doesn't make things possible. It's far more direct: it determines what will happen.

This is intended for writing, but I want any world I write in to be sufficiently well reasoned out that it could be used as the basis for a game.
Specifically, I wanted a magic system for a story where science and magic coexist. That's why I want them to be completely different.
That reminds me... Magic must not be unnatural. It must be as integrated into the way the universe runs as science, but because science exists, magic must work in different ways.

Your power depends on your understanding of what has gone before
I hadn't thought about that. Turning what I thought of as an outcome into a cause.

01-28-2013, 10:35 AM
I am currently working on a magic system for a novel & for an rpg.

there are 3 divisions of magic, ritual, spell casting & artificing. ritual takes time & requires the correct equipment, ceremonies, incantations, drugs, dancing, drums etc. spell casting is the on the spot spell use, such as light, fireballs, levitation and such & artificing is imbuing items with magical abilities.

there are 2 schools of magic hermetic & shamanic/druidic, hermetic is the more scholarly, studying books, developing components, magic circles etc & shamanic is traditional ie you use a holly branch & wear a wolf skin because your teacher used them, the ritual is more dancing, drumming & taking magical (hallucinatory herbs) than candles & circles. though unknown to the practitioners, 2 hours dancing around a fire creates the circle just as effectively as 2 hours drawing a magic circle with the correct runes & symbols, the candle is fire just as much as the bonfire & the sacred pool is a reflecting liquid like the chalice of mercury)