Soft and Hard Magic Systems

I would never do that.
In my head magic must be tied to mysticism, mysticism must be tied to Mystery (the ontological and metaphysical meaning), Mystery is tied to supernatural beings. Mystery talk a language unknown to material world…
Probably I’m saying that if you want a boy who can cast mundane spells with a magic wand by speaking Latin, I’m not your man.
And probably it’s the main reason on why I didn’t resurrected an old wip about mages and magic knights


At times time given to showcasing new and amazing magic systems can be better spend by giving player a more active tie to the plot or more character interactions. I honestly grow bored of constant infodumps about new magic system needing blood of virgins and salamander stones to cast a basic fireball. It’s boring! It could be integrated much better!

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Who said it need to being explained? Can you explain an overworld abyss?

Well, depends on the source of said abyss… Japanese games tend to give very long explanations about it being the collective hatred / laziness / complacency / whatever other cultural sin they can imagine or just slap chaos or darkness as an explanation. Why Abyss? Chaos! Why did thus guy to kill us? Abyss commanda chaos and it corrupted him. Whatever is wrong, chaos can always be blamed for it.


When it comes to magic systems, I treat magic itself as a naturally-occurring force that is neither created nor destroyed, much like energy IRL. End of story.


Regarding magic systems, while it would be foolish to pretend a “right” way to treat magic (and to be clear, everything writen here is only my own preferential take), I feel that taking magic as a force that can be systematized and studied as if it were a frog in a lab misses the point and can end in making a very well-crafted world feel artificial and mundane.

I believe a key part of fantasy is the wonder, the marvel of the uncommon, the impossible, and magic should to relate to these elements. It speaks of deeply trascendental patterns of reality that can only be correctly communicated throught symbols, myths, enchantments and curses, almost like an art. Is the engagement with these symbols and patterns what makes the magician, not necessarily the specific, technical process in order to cast a fireball or make a gun. While rules may serve well in the narrative, rules should not be the core and defining element in how a story treats the supernatural.

Again, without intending any offense, sometimes I can’t shake the feeling that overfixating on the techniques and rules is sometimes the sign of an author or creator not actually getting into a “magical mindset”, ironically enough.


My rules for magic in my fantasy stories are really not that strict. There are standard ways to cast spells, as well as the incantations that come with them, but that’s pretty much it. All people do is to channel the naturally-occurring force and transform them into those spells, or use them as augments for their own unique attacks. Nobody really has a monopoly on magic, as prescribed by the in-universe laws.

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I feel like from, a position of a creator, you have to know what’s going on behind the scenes. Even while creating wonderment for others, or especially.
Limiting magic is also very important, as Vera said. Otherwise, you end up with a system where everything can be handwaved away with latin chants.
From a position of a reader, some people (for example here) prefer the unexplained ineffable magic energy abyssal mumbo jumbo and don’t want to treat it as science, and that is very valid. But I’m sure there are people who actually want scientific-like magic, even if it’s nonsensical. Both of those people should be able to find stories written for them.


I don’t pretend that I’m writing the “right” magic and I don’t want to impose my views either. It’s that even in a multicultural setting (like what I’m writnig) with many views on magic and not-magic powers it doesn’t feel right to me if they are not tied to any form of cult or mysticism.

I don’t use Latin chants… I use unpronounceable mumbo jumbo, that can be chanted, shouted, whispered depending on the context.


That’s not automatically a bad thing. Most fairy tales and many epics work like that and it serve its purpose perfectly.


I mean, I actually with you regarding tying magic with mysticism and rooted cultural practices, and that’s pretty much the way I treat the supernatural in my own work.

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I believe the problem here comes from the assumption that the so-called “soft” magic is not actually limited by anything if not tied to explicit or implicit hard, science-like rules. The “limitations” of the supernatural in more traditional forms usually take the shape of moral taboos and symbolic relations deeply tied to the worldview of the culture represented. This doesn’t obeys scientific laws but, as I said before, trascendental patterns as real as the very laws of physics from the perspective of their believers.

From a narrative standpoint, I would also say that very old works of fantasy limit their magic systems by the themes of the story and what the supernatural is meant to represent in the whole. I find this as satisfactory (and even more effective) than a sytem of fake science.


That depends on what kind of rules they are, though. It could be just something that’s necessary for internal consistency (so that reader isn’t scratching their head as to why a magical solution X is used in situation A, but can’t be used in perfectly similar situation B). I mean, that could get the reader wondering, but I don’t believe that’s the kind of wonder you were talking about.

…wait, how do they chant it if it’s unpronounceable?

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Now you’ve just made me wonder:
How readers would react to a setting that pretends to try giving explanations, only for realise in the end that there is no full explanation (only partial hypothesis) and the truth is mysterious and beyond your reach?


Years of practice and initiation

I don’t think explanations are necessary, any more than you need to explain German grammar rules to have a character who speaks German. You just need to follow your own rules.


Yup. What she said. However, if you have doubts or are one of those who like to nerd and write a LOT of lore…then put that stuff in the Stat page under a Codex.

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I have doubts on my magic system (which is very folklore-nerdy since it’s based on existing tradition), which is precisely why I’m not going to explain it. I’m guessing it depends on the kind of doubts.


I disagree that systematizable magic can’t relate to these elements. Learning science can inspire wonder, and readers can marvel at the uncommon in hard science fiction - why should a scientfic magic system be any different?


As a person working in a scientific field, I’m not a massive fan of the idea that by tying the way magic works to an internal science-based system, it is no longer a thing of wonder or marvel. It’s like Terry Pratchett says in Wee Free Men, “It doesn’t stop being magic just because you know how it works.”

I liked, for example, the way Brynn Chernosky handled the magic system in her Keeper Trilogy. She tied a lot of the principles of magic in her world to STEAM so that the students at her magical university had to have a background in those fields to be able to perform complex spells or rituals. Magic is still an integral part of nature that can be at times unpredictable and uncontrollable, something the characters are very aware of. When magic is approached in Keeper with carelessness or irreverence, it usually leads to very, very bad consequences. Additionally, even though she uses the nature of keeper powers to circumvent some of the more technical aspects of magic for story purposes, the player is still kept in check by there being a physical toll for being overly dependent on magic.

I probably wouldn’t go the same direction as Brynn because IIRC she has an actual background in mathematics, and I don’t think I could pull it off as well as her. But that’s the point, I think. It’s not that merging science and magic takes all the wonder out of it, I think that some people just don’t have the knowledge base in science or math to be able to pull it off well.

I get what you’re saying here, but this is science as well. There’s a reason art was added to STEM subjects.

Science and magic aren’t opposing forces. Magic is a force of nature, and science is the process of understanding nature.


It is for some people’s thought.

Because…not everyone is fond of:


I Abhore NUMBERS. I hate them. I despise them.

If anyone starts nerding and giving me numbers to explain ‘Magic’, all they gonna get is a Fireball in the face.

There is a difference between Magic and Nature. Science is Limited. Nature is Not.

Not everything can be explained by putting something under a microscope and poking at it.

For some people, science is one thing and Magic is another thing.

And that’s fine too. To each their own. Because stating that ‘Magic is Science’, you just close the door on everyone who hates Science and you steal their sense of Wonder by attaching it to something…they don’t care about.

So, everyone view Magic as they want. For me, Magic is Abracadabra! :joy:

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