If you’ve ever read any of my books, you might notice that I LOVE a good magic system. The Witch of Cheyne Heath series has three, and my upcoming series, The Shining Continent, has five, with even more planned for future installments. There are a few things I always think about when creating a magic system that are important to make it grounded and unique. Here are some questions I use to organize my thoughts.
Source of Magic
Where does your magic come from? Is it divine in nature or a natural force? Does it come from another plane of reality, from ancient artifacts, from ancestral connection? Where your magic comes from will change the flavor of your magic and your story or game.
In The Witch of Cheyne Heath series, magic is a psychic force that emerges from the subconscious of regular human beings. In The Shining Continent, the different source magics emerge from fonts in the earth.
What is the stuff of your magic? Is it energetic or material? How does it manifest itself in the world? Is it something everyone had access to, or only certain people?
In The Witch of Cheyne Heath, the psychic force that is the source of magic is called Influence. Unlike normal people, witches have a natural connection to it, but regular people can be initiated into sorcerous traditions to access its power.
In The Shining Continent, the people of each nation are deeply attuned to their own source magic, as it is the force that evolved them from animals to people. The magic of a nation is strongest closest to its Source Font and overlaps with the others. People feel other source magics in their essence and find them increasingly uncomfortable the greater the concentration.
Method of Control
How do you control the magic? Is it instinctive? Does it require training? Does the practitioner use ingredients and recipes? Rituals? Does it require willpower and focus? Does it require movement? A unique perspective?
Method of Ongoing Development
How does a practitioner of your magic system get better at it? Do they require ongoing study? Must they practice it constantly?
What do people who practice the magic call themselves? How do they see themselves?
If the magic requires training, how does the practitioner get that training? At some form of academy? Do they learn it on-on-one? Are they gifted it, or must they earn it?
What’s the actual process a practitioner must go through? Study and tests? Cathartic trials?
Method of Teaching
Academic, apprenticeship, or figure-it-out-yourself?
Barriers to and Costs of Practice
This is an important one. If there is no barrier, then everyone has access to it, and you have to allow for that in your world building. Even if everyone does have access, there must be some limitations, or everyone will be casting spells at each other all the time. Or maybe that’s the point of your world.
Consequence of Misuse
If someone uses magic to do something bad, is there a governing or policing body that will hold them accountable? If someone overreaches, what will happen to them?
Are there supernatural or divine entities who protect magic and its use?