Sunday, January 10, 2016

I'm trying to make up a magic system, please help.

So I've got a setting in mind and in it I want there to be four types of magic.  One of them is tripping me up.

There's elemental magic, think the benders of the two Avatar series or the Planeteers.  Though it wouldn't be limited to the four classical Greek elements.  Someone could totally have an "elemental" affinity for pond scum or sewage but the first wouldn't be useful that often and the second would be disgusting.

There's mental magic, so it involves things like illusions and telepathic communication and scoping out a place in an out of body experience and whatnot.  Your imaginary friend who isn't actually imaginary is a being that can only interact with with the physical world via communicating with someone, you in the case of your imaginary friend, using mental magic.

There's body magic, which has the drawback of being a thing that usually doesn't like to conforming to your provincial ideas of aesthetics, can let you become more durable, grow claws, transform into a Hulk-esque creature, or just plain shapeshift.  (Werewolves inherently have this, but the same process that's winnowed it down to merely changing between two forms has also watered down the grotesque aspect so they change into wolves, not wolf-esque misshapen things from body horror nightmares.)

And then there's the one that I'm having trouble with.

I want there to be environmental magic.  The only power the practitioner has is to call upon the environment, and the magic inherent in the environment is was does the actual work.

But what does that mean?

It needs to be different from elemental magic, you're not doing earth / fire / air / concrete / water / tree / whatever bending by another name.  In a woodland setting one might imagine that it's somehow related to trees and bushes ("I shall ask nature to bind you with vines"). but what's the inherent magic in, say, rocks?  Or a city?

Magical traffic lights only get you so far; what're the magical properties of a back alley and what can one do when an inhabitant needs help?

* * *

The basic idea is that places are imbued with a magic of their own, and environmental calls upon it.  The problem is that I can't figure out what, "A magic of their own," should be.

Suggestions?  Please?


  1. My first thought regarding inherent city magic is always "sentient city" - I dealt with those for quite a long time. Not irl, of course. I'm afraid that's not what you need, though.

    I'll think about it. Just... try not to expect me to come up with anything - I don't want to let you down again.



  2. Hmmm. Regarding your example ("I shall ask nature to bind you with vines"), what exactly is "nature" here? A nature spirit? The essence of nature? I was thinking something like different places have different...beings... associated with them. Whether because of religion or history or the reality-warping effects of a large group of sentient beings concentrated in one area creating small gods ala Terry Pratchett.

    Or in something along the same lines, the mage could reach into the "memory" of an area and evoke a minor re-enaction of a certain event. (For example, in someplace earthquake-prone the mage could caused a very localized tremor. In aforementioned dark alley, if someone was mugged there and murdered, the mage could transfer the trauma of the event to her attacker to cause disorientation.)

    Or there's life magic - draining a living thing, storing it, and using it to restore something else. Commanding wooden beams to turn back into trees or something.

    Just shooting out random ideas here, hope it helps...

  3. I have two ideas which don't allow for "I shall ask nature to bind you in vines":

    (1) The magic user can increase or decrease the (physical) forces that are already affecting an object. A friend of mine wants to jump on a building, so I shall make gravity more gentle to him while he is on the way. A pleasant breeze is blowing, but with my help it will uproot trees. (I'm uncertain if the person who works this magic should be able to apply them to the forces they themselves exert.)

    (2) The magic user can speed up or slow down processes that would happen anyways. Making a tree grow in a minute. Making a building crumble. Causing an earthquake that would happen at some point in the future because of the tectonic activity in this area to happen now. (However, this seems closer to time manipulation than environmental manipulation, at least intuitively. Also, some of it's effects could probably be reached with (1) just as well. All in all I'd favor (1).)

    1. Asking nature to bind someone with vines was just me groping around for something that could be done.

      I definitely do like the idea of modifying existing forces.

      Bad guys all slip and fall down.

      "What just happened."

      "The coefficient of kinetic friction changed."


      "Their feet didn't stop when they contacted the ground, which is something that the process of running kind of depends on."

      I'd need to put a lot of thought into what exactly this would mean in various settings. I want something that makes sense in the heart of the city and other human areas, but also in places untouched by human activity.

      How does it apply in a swamp, on a mothballed rusting ship, in a jungle, in a forest, in a grassland, on a rocky outcrop, in a desert, in natural caves, in a mine, on a snowy mountain, in the ocean, et cetera?

      But you've at least provided the idea to start from.

      I really like the idea of characters being able to be less affected by gravity I have for years. (Pleasant dreams of being light enough to make everything different) On the other hand the flip-side making gravity stronger, seems like it would risk being extremely overpowered. (Bad guys are chasing me. Gravity Changes. Bad guys are stuck on ground.)

    2. Glad to help.

      On the other hand the flip-side making gravity stronger, seems like it would risk being extremely overpowered. (Bad guys are chasing me. Gravity Changes. Bad guys are stuck on ground.)

      A possible way around it is that the larger the difference between the natural force and the manipulated force is, the more magical strength the magic user needs (or the faster they become exhausted). Though if you go that way, you'd probably need to calculate it to keep it consistent between uses.

  4. (See if commenting works this time)

    Another possibility is that you can use environmental magic to obtain information. For example, you could obtain information on past events in the vicinity, hidden passages, traps, etc. It wouldn't usually be directly usable in immediate combat but could be very useful in gathering information or in on-the-spot planning. The types of information and the area of effect could be calibrated for play balance.

    Michael I

  5. In Shinto, there are lots of spirits, deities, and entities that inhabit parts of nature, some small, some large, and all of them can be entreated for favor or protection or other requests. They may not grant them, but they can be asked. If I recall and read correctly, though, it's not just nature that has inhabiting and animating spirits, but potentially everything. Magical traffic lights and back alleys both could exist, and you just have to know how to please the residents to get their help.

    Maybe that will work out?