Fantastic Wonder is a series of Fantasy related posts where I discuss different aspects of the genre and the many tropes and plot lines associated with it. Today, I talk about magic in fantasy.
Fantastic Wonder: To Mage or Not to Mage
Today, I want to talk about magic. AKA fantasy superpowers. It’s the staple of many fantasy worlds, but some of them are noticeably absent or subtle enough that it’s something else entirely. This is one of those fantasy things that separates it from usual historical works based on medieval Europe. I love the concept and wished we had something as cool as this in real life. Then again, we’d have a whole mess of trouble.
Think about it. Burning houses down, turning our parents into prey animals (even though for some, kids would totally do that) and even causing a catastrophe the likes of which the world has never seen. I’m sure we would have had some regulation in place, but it would be a lot more fun to go to a magic school rather than…whatever passes for education around here.
So let’s talk about magic stuff.
Magic as a plot device in fantasy
Magic is an interesting concept. It’s something we clearly cannot do in real life, yet many fantasy worlds have clear magic systems that seem not just natural but accepted as well. Back in the ye olde days, magic was seen as demonic and a sign that you were cursed by the devil. Yet nowadays it’s a thing that screams superhero. Perhaps that’s kind of why we love magic so much.
Yet it’s not a supreme power all the time. Magic has to have rules. After all, if everyone had superpowers, then there’d be no need for swords and bows. To paraphrase the classic animated film The Incredibles, “If everyone had superpowers, then no one would be super.” It’s okay for a select few to be gifted.
In my upcoming book, some people are gifted and others are relegated to swords and traditional weaponry. There are skills to counter mages, but the gist of magic is to make it equivalent to weapons and solves all of our problems, yet it often isn’t as easy as that.
Rules have to be in place not just in how powers are obtained, but how they’re used. Certain attacks can be weak, so long as they’re useful, but if every attack could decimate cities, and everyone had them, no doubt the world would be a smoldering crater in a few days. Not that these attacks can’t exist, but power like that must come at a cost. Some sort of drawback must be in place.
Say using a weak spell dispenses no mana. It won’t destroy a city, but a weak fireball will likely char some helpless sap’s robe. Now imagine summoning a small meteor. Such a powerful skill would no doubt be costly. Perhaps making the user tired or worse, causing burns on the person’s arms.
Superman is a big example of being the ultimate superhero (after all, he is Superman). He can fly, lift things, go at supersonic speeds, he’s indestructible, can see through things, use a heat ray, and do so many other things I probably don’t even know of. He has so many superpowers that nothing seems to stop him.
But later, they introduced kryptonite, an energy source that makes him weak. Honestly, I don’t think that’s enough, but the point is, something has to exist to make magic not a big answer to all the main characters problems.
In any case, magic is a fun concept and I always look for it in every fantasy series.
How do you cast spells?
There are a number of ways to cast spells. The most common is through incantations. Saying that allow the spell to work. It likely prevents anyone from accidentally burning themselves or making some colossal golem come to life, but it’s similar to calling out attacks. A lot of anime series do this and magic incantations are similar to that. I feel it’s a little unusual though since it makes it clear to the opponent what you’re casting.
Another is not even doing the incantation at all and just flinging a spell. This is a little more realistic, but it could be prone to accidents.
There’s also objects doing the casting. Wands like in Harry Potter. Rings, and even tomes. I’ve seen a few works, one of which I might talk about soon, but I prefer using hands since it feels more natural to me. Besides, tomes feel bulky and strange to me. When I’m casting a spell, I don’t feel like holding a book while avoiding attacks. It feels sluggish, but whatever.
Or you might not even need a weapon, but a familiar or a pet. Perhaps they could do all the work for you or even supply you with mana. So many possibilities.
Elemental, or something else
Do they have to be elemental? What about traditional magic spells that change things, makes objects animated or anything else. Sometimes, a good polymorph spell is all you need, and I’ve talked about how much I love transforming into things. I kind of prefer elemental magic though, purely as a gamer. Many games have elemental spells such as fire, water, and ice. Personally, I’m more of a thunder and lightning kind of guy. Fire’s too agonizing, and Water’s too slow. I prefer swift and focused.
Umm…in any case, the idea of magic simply being physical rather than elemental can be fun. Imagine using magic on your pencil to write for you, or to read minds. What about levitating, or even flying. Or maybe getting your annoying sibling to admit they actually like you and wouldn’t trade you for anyone else.
I can also see this going into reality bending territory. Being able to do whatever we want sounds amazing and I’m totally down for that, provided I’m the one making the rules, but having a character become too strong is a problem. This is why rules need to be in place.
If a character is too omnipotent, then there’s no one who can stop them. Weapons and other spells wouldn’t be able to hurt them, they can force others to surrender and they could teleport to any location on the planet, even the bad guy’s domain assuming he knows exactly where he is beforehand.
Which is why magic has to have setbacks. If not, then your character becomes too strong. So how could this work? I’ve mentioned a few, such as growing exhausted each time the mage uses their spells and having harm inflicted on you, but what else? Perhaps and overuse of magic shortens your lifespan. That’d keep people from throwing fireballs willy-nilly, but that seems too strict.
Or maybe if you teleport too much, it starts sending you to random parts of the world. Imagine using your teleport spell so many times that it sends you to some far off snow region or even the desert. And you couldn’t use your teleport spell for a week.
Too often I see magic being used without any sort of drawback and it seems too easy to just let the hero sling spells like its going out of style. Going back to the familiar example, perhaps a constant usage of spells drains the life from it. So each spell becomes harder to use without energy.
Most games have a mana system or an energy bar, but while I get it’s for gameplay purposes (spending a full day without mana isn’t fun), it adds that some spells tend to be easily forgiven since they’re fun to use.
It’s been a busy week, so I figured I’d ramble on about a subject I love. But I want your thoughts? What kind of magic spells do you love? Are you someone who’d love to teleport or fly? How do you imagine your magic system? Are the consequences fair, or really strict? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear them.
That’s all for today. Take care, and remember, the inn is always open.
Got any suggestions for future topics and reviews? Hit me up on my social media channels and let me know your thoughts. I always read the feedback, even if I don’t respond, and every reply counts.