Writing: Magic exploration

I thought today I would walk through an example of my “back end” thought process on Magic.

I have a magic system that I want to have “locked” from a past conflict in the world.  It has minimized the magic any one person has and definitely minimized magic in the world. The “adventure” for the protagonist will be her (initially unwitting) cascade of unleashing this magic back into her world.

My struggle is that I want to have relatively-low-magic but not NO magic.  So I am trying to set limitations:

  1. Healers all have a random disability (blindness, deafness, loss of motor skills, debilitating migraines, etc.) because theirs is actually DEATH magic.  They don’t know this…
  2. Fire starters can’t feel injuries – making them TERRIBLE to try to use in battle.  They might be dying of a wound and not have any clue about it until they’ve bled too close to death to be saved.
  3. Water manipulators ??? – I don’t know yet!!! This is the one I’m struggling with.  I kind of want to say they struggle with memory; like short-term memories are difficult to retain if they’ve been practicing their craft.  Makes them seem “dumb” when they are children, and the more power they manipulate in the craft the “dumber” they seem.
  4. Time (future seers or past seers) have no control over the depth or distance of their power.  Their magic can be “sucked” from them at pretty much any level when they try to use it.  What should be “simple” might wipe them off their feet for no apparent reason. I actually have a thought on WHY this is – but I don’t know if I can verbalize it thoroughly.  It has to do with that object’s/target’s “depth” within one of the other magic’s realm and it takes MORE “time” to overcome an object’s earth or fire or whatever.
  5. Air magicians ??? – another one I want a good “price” for  A pure air mage can move AIR – so they are speedsters of a sort (but with limitations on their physical form) and not much else (that I’ve come up with).  But what is their downside?  Or is this the “well they might not be POWERFUL, but damn you don’t got the owchie of the others” – when really once you link air to fire or time…  you get scary combos.
  6. Earth magic has “vanished” (lies! lies I say MWAHAHAHA!)

The protagonist doesn’t know all this.  She also doesn’t know that earth magic HASN’T entirely disappeared. It’s “earth” combined with others in different amounts that allow other gifts to manifest (and actually are more common than “pure” gifts).  They assume that when someone is a “plant wizard” they just have pitiful amounts water magic.  It’s actually a case of they are like 33% water, 33% healing, and 33% earth…  They seem “weak” because there IS a problem with earth magic… but that’s getting into plot.  Lightning is air+fire magic.  And yeah, THEY are scary in combat.  Air+earth is basically grenade. 1 in a million people has 33% air, 33% death and 33% fire which is basically the ability to make someone DROP DEAD with a thought.  Air seems “simple” until you apply it with another magic.

So in this system if you are born with “pure” magic you have the capacity to become a full-fledged sorcerer.  This is using ALL types of magic to their full potential.  So a seer is just a person without the other types of magic unlocked. The mages – lesser magics are born with combinations and that’s all they ever get.  BUT they also have access to their full strength all the time and without the drawbacks sorcerers suffer from. Not to get into plot, but there aren’t any sorcerers at the beginning of this book.

I did math:

I don’t want it to be that a LOT of people have magic, in fact I want it to be relatively rare.  So in a city of 100,000 (London in 1600 was about 200,000 so… “medium” city) I want ~1-5% of the population to have “powers,” with these pure powers (sorcerer potential) being approximately 5% of that group.  This means 3,000 people have SOME kind of magic at a random level of ability. Which means 150 will be “pure magic” users (above).

I moved to Excel for the next bit so I could play with numbers (out of ~3,000 “magic” users in the city):

Magic: % #
Healers 25% 37.5
Fire 10% 15
Water 25% 37.5
Seer 15% 22.5
air 25% 37.5
100% 150

Because remember, I said 1-5%  of the total population (1k-5k) with POTENTIAL actually use magic and ~5% of magic users are “mages” (pure in a type). I think this is the balance I like.  I want fire to be VERY low (they don’t survive childhood easily…) and healers and seers are more “rare” because they can choose not to USE their powers. And for healers… if every time you helped a customer something nice you had debilitating migraines would YOU actively pursue a customer service career?  It takes a special kind of crazy to do that.

So the protagonist is a healer. Her maid is a water-user. The queen is a seer. Another Lady in the court will be a seer although it’s not publicly known. One of the people she works with in the king’s healers’ corp (when they are near a battlefront) is actually a non-practicing fire starter masquerading as a super-weak healer.

I have space for another ~35 healers, I think I will have 20 of them be “public” (working in the city) and 5-10 “noble” (supporting/working for nobility) and that gives me a few numbers to throw around (I think 5-10 working for the military throughout a large — think Germany- sized country– is generous and explains why they will allow a nobleman’s daughter to work with the army!)

Readers (unless/until they find THIS blog post) won’t be told a lot of this through the plot.  They also won’t necessarily know WHY earth is broken (at least not in the beginning).  I want to avoid an info dump at any point, but I’m trying to figure out how to dribble what I want the reader to get to if it’s “lost knowledge.”


3 thoughts on “Writing: Magic exploration”

  1. Love this system! I’ve also thought of a world where there is a cost to using magic. No one seems to have successfully thought it through, but I think you have done it here. I like the idea of your cost for the water magic. Maybe air magic’s cost could simply be fatigue? The characters have to nap after their exertions like toddlers using too much energy at once. Or they could have communication issues, like they talk so fast other characters can’t understand them. Or symptoms like ADHD where they just simply can’t stay still and they do reckless things without thinking. Just some ideas!


    1. I like the fatigue. I’ve also thought maybe they are “always cold” or “always hot” – like air when moving fast gets hot so when they AREN’T using the magic they feel like they are freezing or something


  2. […] My family was laughing at me when we gathered for Mother’s Day brunch because I brought a piece of paper I’ve been making noodles and notes on.  I kept holding up this paper at people (which looks like a picture to most people) and saying “Can’t you tell I’m making a plot line!”  I thought it was hilarious because to anyone not me it looks like a bunch of lines with random words and numbers jotted around it.  But to me it’s plot and world building and even some character arcs in there (yes, this is a continuation of my post on magic) […]


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