by thefourpartland

Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4 – Part 5 – Part 6

So, I’ve spent the last four posts giving my thoughts on how to design a magic system, but I’m sure many of you are curious as to how all of this would work in practice, so I’m going to spend this post and the next on going through my process step by step. Usually, it isn’t quite as formal as this post will be, but I’m trying to make this as clear as possible.

You may have noticed at the end of the last post that I called the magic system I had in mind Ferrous Timber. The name will become clear as I go through the steps, but it’s an idea that has been bouncing around my head for a little, and I want to see how it looks on paper.

And now, on to the choices.

Choice #1: Strength – For those of you who’ve had a chance to pry back the covers of The Four Part Land or Splintered Lands, you’ll know that my primary choice as an author is fairly low powered magic, with strong effects being available only to a few, or in a limited aspect of the world. I will continue part of that trend here. The power available to Ferrous Timber mages will be limited, and there will be no collaboration between them.

Casters draw their power from the world about them, be it from the woods and the trees, or from the earth, and the iron that resides within the earth. Each area will, depending on its characteristics, only be able to support a given amount of magical draining. Too much, and the area will wither and crumble, dying as the lifeforce is siphoned away. Also, the more talented the user, the more efficiently the energy can be utilized, and the less damage is done to the environment.

This magic will exist in a gunpowder fantasy setting, and so there will be high quality ironmongery and effective gunpowder tools to balance out the magicians.

Choice #2: Prevalence – Moderately common. Magic will not require native talent, and so any inhabitant of the setting may choose to acquire some learning in the art, provided that he has the coin to pay for education. However, as each area only has a finite supply of energy, there are strong diminishing returns for having more than a few mages in a given area, and so even towns or armies often have but a small cadre, for more than that would be simply wasteful.

Mages are viewed as a undesirable but necessary part of everyday life. Undesirable because their talents require them to drain the land or the plants, necessary in that their talents help to insure the safety of living, and help produce much of the metal work that is rapidly changing urban life.

Choice #3: Style – Casters will find that they oft struggle to pull on the surrounding environment, for many of the users of the magical talents are little more than hedge wizards, taught a few useful spells by an apprentice in need of coin, but not given the proper grounding in how best to prepare mentally for casting a spell.

Proper ritual will be limited for most everyday use of spells, although any spell that will have a large effect will require longer preparations, as much to focus the caster as to ease the summoning of energy.

As the name Ferrous Timber alludes to, there will be two distinct schools of magic. Both will suffer from the same general restrictions, but the Ferrous half will have a very mechanistic, almost robotic sense to it. Actions performed repetitively, by rote, until such time as the final effect is desired. Each individual spell may not complete the task as desired, but that is no matter, for it is by the repeated and guided application of magic that the final objective might be achieved. The application of logic and of physical law will play into the casting of spells, and most users will have a background in ironmongery, architecture, engineering, or a related field.

By contrast, the Timber half of the magical system will be much more free flowing, with spells that often have no immediate impact, but ones that become stronger over time, growing into their full power as they pull on the energy from the world about them. Timber spells are less damaging to the world around them, but that does not mean they cause no harm, only that the harm, like the spells themselves, is spread out across time, rather than occurring at the resolution of the casting. Unlike Ferrous, Timber can usually accomplish the desired goal with a single casting.

Casters can use either side of the magic, but tend to specialize in one.

Choice #4: Powers – What does the magic do in the world of Ferrous Timber? As you might imagine, each of the two sides has a different range of abilities. Ferrous tends to focus around the shaping of metal, the creation of devices through which actions might then be accomplished. A common application is for a Ferrous user to be an armourer or a weaponsmith, using his talents to shape his output in a way that would not be possible without fine control of magic.

The application of magnetic properties is another area where Ferrous users find themselves at home, and through this, animation of metal creations through the application of tiny magnetic forces.

For their part, Timber users find themselves more at home amongst agrarian lifestyles, using their talents to promote the growth of plants, the diminution of wounds and sicknesses, or the subtle direction of aspects of nature. While many have tried, no mage has yet discovered a principle that allows them to control the mind or thoughts of another. Despite their ability to assist growth in nature, animals are often scared of mages, for at a visceral level creatures can sense the drain that is placed on the rest of the world in order to utilize the spells.

I realize that the powers enumerated here are fairly vague, but that’s because I do not want to list specifics. I find that as a writer having some latitude in what characters can do is of benefit to the creation of the story and the resolution of scenes. I cannot lock out all the inspiration that actually writing the tale gives, and so I leave room within magic to manoeuvre.

Next week, I shall finish up Ferrous Timber, and open up a contest. I look forward to seeing you all then.


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