Magical Systems Framework

#1
I'm working on a story that involves magic, but magic wasn't what motivated me to write. So, the magic has kind of evolved from some other main motivating factors in the story, and that's got me thinking about magical systems. Here's a framework I've been playing with to try and understand how my magical universe fits with others I've read. I'd appreciate suggestions for improvements, suggestions, nuances, etc., etc., etc.!

I've organized this into four quadrants on a diagram, but am sadly lame at getting an image in here. 
The vertical axis runs from "Wholistic" at the top to "Elemental"  at the bottom.
  • Wholistic = created as a whole in the act of magic. So, cleaning a plate magically would involve imagination and will for the plate to go from dirty to clean. (Of course, the cleaning might be bigger <grin>.) 
  • Elemental = Elements of magic (e.g., earth, air, fire, water, etc.) are controlled by the magic user to achieve results. So, to clean a plate might involve water, fire (for heat), air (for drying or movement), etc.
The horizontal axis runs from "Universal" on the left to "Idiosyncratic" on the right.
  • Universal - Magical forces and rules of operation are the same for everyone.
  • Idiosyncratic - Magical operations are shaped by the will, imaginations, deep beliefs and desires of the individual.
These dimensions give four quadrants, starting at the top left and going counterclockwise:
  • Universal/Wholistic (top, left)- the magic of the gods and their supernatural heroes or creations. Large scale works that spring fully formed from the imagination and will of super powerful beings. This kind of magic would probably never be used by individuals, and certainly never to clean a plate or create a fireball.
  • Universal/Elemental (bottom, left) - General principals operating with elemental forces of magic (air, fire, water, earth would be one set, could be others). Those with the requisite knowledge can enact an "engineering" of magic. See, for example, Tinker by Wen Spencer and the protagonist's magical diagrams. Cleaning a plate would be accomplished by activating a "clean plate" spell or pattern, perhaps developed by someone else, which would control elemental forces to get the job done. There could be a spell patter for fireballs.
  • Idiosyncratic/Elemental (bottom, right) - General principles allow standardized spells drawing on elemental forces but requiring personal power that varies with individuals. Example: Dungeons and Dragons (?) To clean a plate, the person might use a general cleaning spell that would work with their personal magical power (fire mage, water mage, etc.). Tho is kind of magic might have people who could produce fireballs.
  • Wholistic, Idiosyncratic (upper, right) - Magic is a force that is shaped and activated in unique ways by individuals according to their beliefs, abilities, personalities, etc. Some results, such as healing, may be accomplished one way by one person and entirely differently by another. Example: ?? (All I can think of is the one I'm writing; it's creating a block!) Some could bend their imagination to cleaning a plate, and some might not, and for each the particular vision or how it would happen might differ. No universal spells, and no direct control of elemental forces. Therefore, no fireballs.
Wow, that's probably more than anyone will read. But, if you got this far, I'd love any thoughts. In what ways does this format help you think about magic? How does it fit with magical systems you've read about, or created? Are there good examples of each that come to mind?

Re: Magical Systems Framework

#2
I think this is actually great. Nice structure and good specifics for each quadrant that does not allow great changes in favor of certain characters.
But you have to specify.
How do people get assigned to their quadrant? Do they train for it? Are they born naturals? Mystical ways to change it? God's blessing maybe?
Throwing a good well structured magical system into a book is worth nothing if you don't explain how people actually are able to utilize it.
And maybe "dumbify" the names a bit. A non-English speaker may not known what Wholistic and Idiosyncratic mean.

Or maybe I got the whole point wrong, which is why there is a contingency plan below.
(You are choosing which one of the quadrants you are going to use for your fiction and I just misread it right?)

Each of the things is well explained, you just need to choose what better fits your fiction.
Do you want to be extremely specific and allow no space for changes and surprises? Go for Universal/Elemental.
Do you want the complete opposite? Allow the characters to explore their own limits and the limits of what is possible? Go for Universal/Wholistic.
At the end of the day, it all depends on what type of story you want: Strict or Free. 
(Or something in between, that's why there are two others although Wholistic/Idiosyncratic is more free than Idiosyncratic/Elemental (in my humble opinion of course))

Most non-LitRPG/GameLit books use a more let-go version of magic that allows the writer to be creative in a different way, while the ones that implement game structures tend to be more strict with what is possible.
There is of course more to magic than these 4 sections. Magic is something that was invented so that impossible things could be explained. It has so many forms that this framework touches nothing but the very top of the tip of the iceberg.

Mother of Learning is a perfect example of a working non-cheatable magical universe. All the rules are specified and they allow no space for cheats. It is the apex of a great magic-focused book.

Hope this helped. Stay well.

Re: Magical Systems Framework

#3
i really like the horizontal axis that you use
i also think this system won't be easy to abuse
the universal aspect covers world logic quite well
the other opens up all sorts of stories you could tell

if i had to offer some advise to help you out
i would simplify the descriptions without a doubt
boil descriptions down to make them easy to digest
the wholistic aspect might benefit from that the best

peoapproval

Re: Magical Systems Framework

#4

eric_river Wrote:
i really like the horizontal axis that you use
i also think this system won't be easy to abuse
the universal aspect covers world logic quite well
the other opens up all sorts of stories you could tell

if i had to offer some advise to help you out
i would simplify the descriptions without a doubt
boil descriptions down to make them easy to digest
the wholistic aspect might benefit from that the best

peoapproval
 Aieee! A reply in verse? So cool! Plus, the content is much appreciated.

Re: Magical Systems Framework

#5

Alaqi Wrote: I think this is actually great. Nice structure and good specifics for each quadrant that does not allow great changes in favor of certain characters.
But you have to specify.
How do people get assigned to their quadrant? Do they train for it? Are they born naturals? Mystical ways to change it? God's blessing maybe?
Thanks, Alaqi. Helpful thoughts all across the board, but particularly this part because it takes a slightly different view. I read this as suggesting that, within a story, characters could be placed into different quadrants. I hadn't thought about that, well, maybe a little as the story evolved, but only in that the "god" characters operated in the Universal/Wholistic quadrant - magical structures and creations springing complete from the will and imagination and affecting the whole world. As my characters did magic, I found them producing results in complete ways (not built up from elements) that sprang from their beliefs, thoughts, and personalities (wholistic/idiosyncratic). I think I ended up going that way because one of the themes in the story is the need to avoid re-creating the dystopian technological future that the actions of the gods is changing. It just seemed that Universal/Elemenatal gave too much law-based control over the physical world and would too easily allow the reproduction of technology. I came to this framework as I thought about how the magic my characters were doing seemed to differ from magic in some other works. The whole framework is kind of a first stab, very much a work-in-progress, so thanks for the feedback!


Need to figure out how to post a graphic!

Re: Magical Systems Framework

#7

NovelNinja Wrote: Is this a chart for creating magic systems, or for one magic system? 

I believe you have to upload the image to an outside host and then link to it.


It's more a framework for thinking about magical systems. Came to me as I was thinking about the magical system evolving in books I am writing. So, creating them. The idea is that magical systems would fit in one of the quadrants.

Thanks for the tip on how to upload image. Duh! Should have though of that.

Re: Magical Systems Framework

#8

InterestingLad Wrote: Need to figure out how to post a graphic!
NovelNinja Wrote: Is this a chart for creating magic systems, or for one magic system? 

I believe you have to upload the image to an outside host and then link to it.

Thanks, NovelNinja. I figured out the graphic problem, with your help and others! Maybe this will make more sense. https://www.royalroad.com/forums/thread/112971?page=1#pid993991

Re: Magical Systems Framework

#9

eric_river Wrote:
i really like the horizontal axis that you use
i also think this system won't be easy to abuse
the universal aspect covers world logic quite well
the other opens up all sorts of stories you could tell

if i had to offer some advise to help you out
i would simplify the descriptions without a doubt
boil descriptions down to make them easy to digest
the wholistic aspect might benefit from that the best

peoapproval


Thanks, eric river. I managed to get the actual graphic up. Now, maybe I can actually think about your very good advice to make the vocabulary clearer!! https://www.royalroad.com/forums/thread/112971?page=1#pid993991

Re: Magical Systems Framework

#10

Alaqi Wrote: I think this is actually great. Nice structure and good specifics for each quadrant that does not allow great changes in favor of certain characters.
But you have to specify.
How do people get assigned to their quadrant? Do they train for it? Are they born naturals? Mystical ways to change it? God's blessing maybe?
Throwing a good well structured magical system into a book is worth nothing if you don't explain how people actually are able to utilize it.
And maybe "dumbify" the names a bit. A non-English speaker may not known what Wholistic and Idiosyncratic mean.

Or maybe I got the whole point wrong, which is why there is a contingency plan below.
(You are choosing which one of the quadrants you are going to use for your fiction and I just misread it right?)

Each of the things is well explained, you just need to choose what better fits your fiction.
Do you want to be extremely specific and allow no space for changes and surprises? Go for Universal/Elemental.
Do you want the complete opposite? Allow the characters to explore their own limits and the limits of what is possible? Go for Universal/Wholistic.
At the end of the day, it all depends on what type of story you want: Strict or Free. 
(Or something in between, that's why there are two others although Wholistic/Idiosyncratic is more free than Idiosyncratic/Elemental (in my humble opinion of course))

Most non-LitRPG/GameLit books use a more let-go version of magic that allows the writer to be creative in a different way, while the ones that implement game structures tend to be more strict with what is possible.
There is of course more to magic than these 4 sections. Magic is something that was invented so that impossible things could be explained. It has so many forms that this framework touches nothing but the very top of the tip of the iceberg.

Mother of Learning is a perfect example of a working non-cheatable magical universe. All the rules are specified and they allow no space for cheats. It is the apex of a great magic-focused book.


Alaqi, you gave the most substantive response of any, so maybe looking at the actual graphic will trigger more thoughts? If an example of a magical system that doesn't fit in one of the quadrants comes to your mind, that would be super helpful! https://www.royalroad.com/forums/thread/112971?page=1#pid993991