Magic can be a major component in many world types, particularly fantasy worlds. If adding magic to a world, however, a worldbuilder must consider a number of factors to ensure the world remains consistent and enjoyable. This not only includes how magic has changed the world and how the people have learned to adapt to its presence, but also the very ‘rules’ under which magic operates in the world must be considered.
One of the first things to consider when adding magic into any world is the question of prevalence. Will magic be commonplace, or will it be relatively rare? This choice will impact the world in a myriad of ways. If the fantastic is commonplace, the world will have adapted.
Magic may also be restrained to a specific community of people that inhabit your world, while others outside that community are not magical or are unable to cast magic.
Schools & Types of Magic
Many worlds have different kinds of magic that are often divided into either types or schools. In game-oriented worlds this allows for different classes to specialize in one form of magic or another, often with different types being opposed to one another. In narrative-driven worlds different types of magic can provide any number of narrative hooks.
Schools of Magic
Types of Magic
- Potions & Poisons
Having different kinds of magic present in a world is one example of fracturing.
While these are common schools and types of magic found in worlds, they do not need to be the kinds in your own world.
-mancy is a suffix often used to describe a type of magic. If you are creating your own kind of magic, consider using it. As examples:
Systems & Rules
Most magic operates under a system or set of rules. For example, in some worlds magic requires a wand or a staff to perform, in others specific components or even a sacrifice is needed. The ‘rules’ that magic operates under in your world will need to be determined or you run the risk of generating either real or perceived inconsistencies.
How does magic work in your world?
In many cases there is a power source that drives magic. This allows for exhaustion to occur and creates times in which magic cannot be used. This establishes a weakness to what otherwise could be a limitless ability. Consider if there is a source from which magic in your world springs and whether this source is limited (either because it runs out completely or because it needs time to replenish). These sources may be external, such as magic crystals that power magical operations, or they may be internal, such as some type of magical stamina inherent to magic users.
- Ubiquitous Force
- Inherent Magical Stamina
- Magical Component
Oftentimes magical exhaustion is linked to physical exhaustion of the user. In many worlds magical exhaustion can lead to nosebleeds, fainting, death, etc. Consider if this is the case in your world. This also limits magic and can serve as a progression indicator if a stamina level can be increased in more game-oriented worlds.
Often components are required to cast spells or to create magic potions. These components may be an item such as a specific herb, they may be physical such as a unique hand gesture, or they may be something else such as a rare alignment of planets. The rarity of such components can be used to great effect: it can be the reason a cult is performing rites at a specific time on a specific date, it can be the reason why a spell is only ever rarely cast, or it can be the reason a wizard needs their staff. The components involved in spells can be easily tied to a world’s economy, particularly in game-oriented worlds.
Magical items may exist either because they possess inherent magical qualities or because they have been imbibed with them through a process such as enchantment. If your world contains magic items you will need to decide what those items are, what powers they provide, and how rare they may be. A world that contains only three or so magic items will be very different than one where they can be purchased on every street corner.
While the people of your world may not be magical, perhaps creatures that inhabit it are. There are many examples of worlds where humans are mundane creatures but a magical creature (often the last of its kind) exists. Of course, perhaps magical creatures are common in your world.
Magical Locations, Buildings & Ruins
A house, a library, a school, an altar, or a temple may all be inherently magical. Your world may possess the ruins of a magical city, or it may possess a region where magic is particularly powerful (or where it exists within a mundane world). Perhaps this location is known to all, or perhaps it is hidden.
Spells & Potions
In many worlds, particularly in game-oriented ones, there has emerged a set of frequently used spells. Fireball, for example, is one such spell that can be found in a plethora of worlds. While you may wish to make your own magic unique and novel, you may also find inspiration in commonly-used spells. If you are designing a world for a mass audience, commonly-used spells can be a way of providing an instant familiarity.
At the crossroads between what is possible and what is allowed lay the potential for forbidden magic and spells. Just because it’s possible to raise a beloved pet back from the dead does not mean that a society will look favorably upon it. Decide whether your world tolerates all forms of magic or if portions of it (certain spells, schools, others) are forbidden. Your world may even seek to destroy all magic users in general.
Coping with Magic
In worlds where magic is common, people will have adapted to its presence. These adaptations will be specific to your world and will be some of the most important worldbuilding details to explore.
- If gold can be created at will, how does the economy function?
- If magic users can teleport or unlock doors, how are they jailed?
- If items can be teleported, how does this change the transportation industry?
For any magical element you introduce, consider the impacts it will have on all facets of your world.
Often in worlds there is an element which nullifies magic. This acts as an equalizer. For example, a specific metal may be resistant to magical effects. Or rites or spells may be performed that once cast do not allow magic to be performed within a certain area. Religious items may also emanate an aura that does not allow the use of magic. There may even be an element which saps magic users of their magical abilities. Nullification can play a critical role in ensuring magic does not become too strong and derail any potential narrative you may also be trying to construct.
Are there elements that might nullify magic in your world and what are they? Under what circumstances might a magic user encounter this?
If magic is something that can be taught or if it is something that magic users can be trained in, then your world might employ methods to do this. How is magic taught in your world? Is there a system to pass on this knowledge or perfect this ability? Schools, universities, or a master and pupil dynamic are all common arrangements in worlds that contain an element of magic.
Manifestation of Magical Power
In your world people or animals may be born with inherent magical abilities. On the other hand, perhaps they need to learn how to control magic through rigorous study. Yet again, perhaps their magical power only manifests itself during a life event such as coming of age or a near-death experience. The onset of magical powers is up to you.
- Coming of Age
- Extreme Circumstance
- Near-Death Experience
Lost & Forgotten Magic
A reoccurring theme with magic world is the idea that certain practices have become lost with time. This lost magic may be rediscovered, or it may simply become a part of the lore of your world.