What incorporations of supernatural in an urban fantasy work the best?

I grew up on a wide variety on urban fantasy: be it something like Dozory or Secret City, Svarog or World of Darkness, hells, I got into Shadowrun as a kid. My introduction to COGs in general started from Choice of the Deathless which still holds a very big place in my heart, I quickly jumped to Blood Money and Metahuman Inc. and so on, and so on.

The main point is the fact that all of the settings from these books incorporate magic in urban fantasy in differing ways - and I’m curious to know what’s the groundwork for magic systems, creatures and mysticism in a modern setting, how to incorporate it into a world of cameras and Internet. Should there be secrecy and masquerade, should there be a lack of it, how much magic in the world is too much, is it best to be centered around certain magical elements or spread them out in a wide array?

I would like to hear the options!


I don’t think there’s really a “should” or “best” with this question. Seems like purely personal preference.

I guess maybe you’re looking for us to tell you our own preferences? Personally I like vampires, werewolves, and demons as far as supernatural beings. For magic systems, I prefer hard magic systems over soft magic systems, just in general, whether it’s urban fantasy or not. (Though sometimes hard magic is just not done very well, while soft magic is difficult to criticize)

Yeah, preferences. Preferred tropes, systems and all that: maybe I’m in too deep with the writer guides, but I always felt there is always “must” and “should” when it comes to writing magic. Some tenets aside from “make it work and work consistently without arse pulls” and I suppose I wanted to learn about these tenets.

My lack of knowledge towards western fantasy comes to mind too. I never really read the classics.

For me it’s not so much what you come up with as how you teach it your audience and integrate it into your plot.
There’s nothing more boring than being forced to read self-indulgent, endless exposition dumps on magic systems.


So, what would be the best way to introduce a magic system? In more of a tool of introduction, not the exact way: drip - feeding, letting the reader piece out the parts for themselves, starting loud and heavy?

I think that depends whether your magic system is hard or soft. Option 2 doesn’t really make any sense for a soft magic system. There aren’t any parts to piece out. Whereas for a hard magic system, Option 3 can be overwhelming and feel like an infodump.

What’s hard and soft magic system?

It refers to how rules-focused the magic system is. A hard magic system only operates in certain very specific ways. Magic has a defined source (though people may not know what it is) and is predictable in its applications. Most likely, there are spells and those spells do the same thing every time. A soft magic system is limited mainly the creativity of the user. There probably aren’t any specified named spells, though there could be categories of magic. It’s more of a spectrum, though, not every magic system is going to be clearly in one of the two boxes.

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Brandon Sanderson has some great, free lessons on writing and implementing magic systems on Youtube (and on writing in general). I mean, you can always take his approach with a grain of salt and do your own thing, but I found it very helpful if you don’t know how and where to even begin,

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Huh. Thank you both.

I suppose my main problem with incorporating magic systems in the urban fantasy is, well. Internet. If you go for Masquerade, you either have to have a service of residential mind wipers (like Tigradcom from Secret City that hid the events of Secret City from common folk) or some way to counter the spreading word.

And there’s a question of a system too. I suppose I just wonder about the benefits of either hard or soft system.

Like @geldar said, it ultimately comes down to your own preferences. If you want to incorporate the modern internet, but don’t like the idea of mind wipers, you could come up with something else instead. I mean, the modern internet is full of conspiracy theories and bullshit. You could, I don’t know, have a team of agents who do nothing all day than deliberately shitpost about the supernatural and post bad fakes, so no one takes the real deal online seriously. They could alternatively (or additionally) be hackers and remove real proof. And that’s just an idea I made up on the spot. I think there’s many possibilites.


Oh, professional shitpost crew sounds like fun! Info wars are a huge part of modern world: this will be enjoyable.


I don’t know how familiar you are with Vampire: the Masquerade, but it does have the Standard Power Cloud Memory : The vampire can make the target forget the past few minutes. (VtM would definitely be an example of a hard magic system.) But since not every vampire has access to that, most of the ways they hide actually don’t use memory modification at all.

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I loved VtM as a kid. Although I was stuck with pirate russian fan translations at that time, I found the premise interesting enough. What do you think about Mage: The Ascension from oWoD?

I don’t know anything about the old WoD, actually. The current VtM 5e is where I started.

Oh, okay. I’ve heard they plan to reboot the Mage and Werewolf line - in terms of fictional magical systems with lasting impact on my opinions about them I’d say Changeling: The Dreaming had the most impact. oWoD one.

You are a creature forever torn between two worlds: the world of fairytales and dreams, the world where you shape the reality as you see fit and the normal, human one. Since you’re a fae, a creature of dreams and human mind, you’re very susceptible to the yoke of normal human life, the Banality and since you’re still partly human, you’re susceptible towards the yoke of magical world, their charms and you risk to lose the already weak grasp on reality.

For me changeling is Escapism: The Game. The story about creatures that shape fae dream as they see fit, live in ballads and fairy tales knowing they can never truly stay, knowing that their double soul makes it impossible to truly belong somewhere.

And the system of magic that’s based on dream, on making things the way you say, on magic just beyond your grasp… it really had got stuck in my head.

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My sugestion is: watch a bit of Supernatural, it may not be a book, but, is a good example of these hard/soft magic system. (Though it may as well be soft from my point)

I’m ok with both werewolwes and vampires, but I’m uneasy about demons, particularly in a modern or history-based setting and/or when they’re clearly based on the devils of Christian beliefs( and to a lesser extent, Jewish and Islamic beliefs). This is mainly since their origin is as creatures of pure evil and I’m neither that fond of stories where my character has to fight against ultimate evil or where we’re supposed to have creatures of pure evil as allies or like a “evil is sexy” RO. If demons are a bit different, like the creatures of chaos that they are in Lucid’s HGs, it could maybe work for me, but even then the changes would have to makes logical sense to me.

One kind of supernatural being that I would like the stories to have, though, is Faeries and the Gennies from Middle Eastern mythology would also be cool and, of course dragons. Elves, dwarwes and other classical Fantasy races would also be cool.Actually, apart from demons, I would like for there to be plenty of different supernatural creatures to deal with.

I guess I would like the magic system to be hard-ish, in the sense that it is clear-cut enough and well-defined enough that you can easily know how to use that skill or group of skills.

As for whether there’s a masquerade going on or not, I don’t have a clear preference. But I think that if you should decide to go for a high-magic world, that it would go better with a world with no masquerade, since it seems to me that with such a huge amount of magic use taking place, this would be much harder to mask, than a more discreet use of magic and a more discreet, so to speak, amount of magic use.

I would be impressed if someone managed to make a urban fantasy/supernatural game that didn’t involve vampires, werewolves or schools…. :sweat_smile: I suspect it would end up involving ghosts or ‘monster girls’. I sometimes think about doing a series of games where you get to play as less conventional fantasy races like Centaurs, Driders, Harpies, Lamias or Lizardfolk…

I don’t think it’s that difficult.