Magic Systems: Matter Manipulation, Manna, and Magic Focuses

Magic systems often share a lot of attributes: from wands to wizards, there are a ton of concepts that can help you create a hard magic system from scratch or even beef up an existing one. These tips are going to be most effective in hard magic systems, but also can be utilized in soft magic systems.

What the magic manipulates: when creating a magic system, the most important thing to get down is what exactly the magic does. You measure what it does based on what it effects. For example, does it allow you to lift rocks? Read minds? Conjure lightning and fire? All of them at once?

In a hard magic system, you’ll usually want your magic divided up into “schools” of use. For example, one magic deals with harmful magic, another with healing magic, another with magic pertaining to arcane mysteries of the universe, and so on. Give these schools of magic labels and categorize most magic into them.

In a soft magic system, it’s a bit easier: all you need to do is assume that anything is achievable through magic, but for some handicap like strength of mind or magic capacity. For example, you think it might be easy for someone who knows the Ultima spell to Doublecast it over and over–that is, until the caster runs out of mana. In D&D, magic is extremely taxing mentally and requires wizards to actually prepare spells for combat. There are some pretty nuts spells in fantasy, but they’re usually handicapped by things like “not enough mana”, “I’m getting too tired to cast spells”, “I don’t know that spell”, and so on.

What resource the magic draws on: in soft magic systems, one usually assumes that this is force of mind or mana, but just mentioning that could make your magic much more immersive with a single edit. Whatever you do, don’t let your reader get the impression that magic takes little or no effort.

In hard magic systems, however, is where you can truly go buck-wild: you can make a magic resource be a special crystal, a physical substance, or some floating, mysterious thing out in the ether akin to the Force. In the universe of Bungie’s Destiny, something similar happens with the macabre race of aliens known as the Hive: they are give supernatural long life and strength, but the parasite within them that gives the Hive this power requires to be satiated through violence. The “magic” only works if violence if used as a fuel. Experimenting with this can be really fun.

A magic focus: Usually this could be wands or staffs, but there are some pretty unique ones like legendary ball-like artifacts or bones of dead gods. The cool thing about a magic focus is that it doesn’t need to be central to the performing of magic. It just needs to be a trademark of the wizard and be connected to the magic somehow. The Jedi use lightsabers but not as a means of channeling the Force: regardless, lightsabers have a connection to the force and are very characteristic of Jedi, so I’d classify it as a focus.

For soft magic systems, you need only go as far as telling that such-and-such a relic is owned by most wizards and it vaguely “helps” them channel magic. Making it necessary or extremely useful gives your wizards an extra dimension, as it makes wizards inseparable from their relics. Then you can do stuff like wizards who are so powerful that they don’t even need relics.

For hard magic systems, saying whether or not a relic is mandatory or not is a must. A lot of fantasy authors who are a fan of magic systems like to go with saying that magic can be channeled without a relic, but it’s much more taxing and difficult. And just to go up one more step than soft magic systems, you could describe how or in what way the relic helps the magic-user.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Plus, I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to check out the Resources tab. It’s full of super helpful material and I promise it will help you out. Until then, writers!


Published by Van Ghalta

A cold, dark, mysterious character who purposefully wrote a story so that he could fit into it...A story where he himself WRITES stories, practices martial arts, blogs, plays airsoft, collects MTG trading cards, plays outdated video games, and writes weird, third-person bios for himself...

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