Seize the GM
Seize the GM
Episode 133: Kinds of Magic For Fantasy Games
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Main Topic

Magic is often one of the defining pillars of a Fantasy Game or Setting. When you are either designing your own, or describing an existing setting’s magic, make sure to capture what sort of feelings or themes it evokes. We will look at a few questions to ask about your magic system and what that means for you as a GM. 

Is it a bounded magic or expansive magic?

Bounded magic refers to magic that exists within some defined limits of what it can do, and is often associated with specific rituals used to reach the desired magic results more often manipulating existing powers of the universe or world while an expansive magic system is one where magic fundamentally changes the reality to accomplish results 

Is it high power or low power?

 Just because magic is expansive doesn’t mean it can rewrite all of the world – limitations will usually still exist so that a game can occur. Does the magic extend only to simple everyday events like waterproofing shoes or can a caster call lightning down from the sky? The sense of wonder may remain high, but the result can be wildly different. 

Is the source of magic internal or external to the caster?

Channeling power from within is a common trope for a willworking style of magic, but it isn’t the only way to explain where the energy or power comes from in your magic. An external source could be either manipulating the fundamental forces of the world or tapping into an extradimensional source or patron.

Is it common or rare?

High magic versus low magic is another way a setting is described, and this question is about magic’s relationship to the setting. The more common it is, the more mundane it can seem and there are many systems and settings where enchanted stones or coins light even the hovels of the lower class. Rare magic has the constant air of danger and allure, even if only low power. 

What does it cost? 

Magic always comes at a cost. What does that mean? Is it sanity or a storytelling allegory for addiction in the system or setting? Is it a part of the casters own lifeforce or spirit? Does magic deplete the world’s energy? The kind of cost a caster must pay, even if only when they lose their way or make a mistake is a way to describe the magic as well. The spell lapping at the mind of the caster, wearing away their resistance to cast it or the slight fraying of their nerves as the energy passes through them burning them out just a little bit.   

Stat Blocks

Zendead

Siphia

The door creaks open and your nose is assaulted by smells that defy explanation. Beyond the door the ruddy red of low burning fires can just barely be made out. With the assaulting smells comes the wash of heat. You also can hear the crackling of a fire mixed with bubbling of something deep in the room. With this bombardment on your senses you are glad you can’t taste anything from here. 

A thin hand caressingly wraps around the edge of the door pulling it more open. Standing there is a figure swathed in a rich burgundy hooded robe. The face beneath is as genderless as a skull. Though the person isn’t a skeleton. You can see the swirl of blue tattoo ink on their neck moving out of the light of the torch. The glittering emerald green eyes almost seem alight in the face. 

“Welcome Adventurer, what can Siphia do for you in the realms Arcane?” A voice like rich honey pours over you with the question. You feel the need to explain every detail to this person that you have never met before today. As you sit there you notice the shadow move independently of your and Siphia’s movements. You take the offered powder and vial with the instructions to not mix the two until you have the creature in view. At which point you must pour it around the creature before it can draw blood from you or anyone else in your party. 

How to Use Siphia in Game:

Siphia is a mage of untold power or none at all. Are they a charlatan or the real thing? Can they draw power from some other place and channel it? They are more than they seem that much is for sure. Let them fill the role you need: false ideas can be just as powerful as the real thing sometimes. 

Guard-a-Manger

Doma’s Logs

Perhaps I should never have read Doma’s logs, somehow locked in the Guild’s vault, but a curious child may only do so much averting of their eyes. Hear what I heard and see if you could also resist:

Navigation is something that should come easily by now. We have charts, we know the best routes, and we have the tools to get from hither to dither. Celestial navigation is not simple, mind you, but should be something we can teach. Each and every vessel has not only a Navigator, but we ensure that the tools are there to accomplish the goals including sextants slowly replacing the astrolabes of yore. 

In this context you may perhaps see why the Guild would be unsure of the questions we received. The missives were sent before the ship left port but contain portents that were difficult to decipher. The ship still had its astrolabe assigned but also had a Sextant. This was not itself unusual, but the report of a low hum from both instruments when they were near each other certainly caused the Guild enough concern to send me. 

That is how I began this trek. A simple Inquisitor sent to boldly go after a ship with humming tools, that had not been seen since it left port. It failed to arrive as expected, and perhaps that is what inspired the Guild to dispatch me rather than the besotten stories of sailors coming back from shore leave. This log should serve you well to understand where I have been, a vast waterless ocean where no Guild member had gone before, as well as give you the key to reach me among the new life I have found or come home without me as I sleep amongst the stars.  

How to Use Doma’s Logs in Game:

Doma’s Logs are a simple call to adventure with the ability of the GM to put anything or anyone they want along the way. The implication that the fantasy world may have space for …. Well …. Space, means you could expand horizons even moreso if you desire. The nature of the sextant and astrolabe may yet be something else to explore.

Lexicon

Thaumaturgy thau·ma·tur·gy noun

1: the performance of miracles

2: hocus-pocus 3

Origin of THAUMATURGY

Greek thaumatourgia, from thaumatourgos + -ia -y

First Known Use: 

circa 1727 (sense 1)

Look-up Popularity

Top 5% of words

Closing remarks 

Zendead – Legend of Nightfall This book has a cool and interesting way to do and use magic. I read this book in the 90’s but I still enjoy it. 

Guard-a-Manger – Friday the 13th: The Series. A haunting and disturbing look at the ways magical items could exact a cost from those who find them. Try this classic TV series about cursed antiques and see if you are inspired. 

Music is courtesy of Sim on Twitter you can find him at @TheSimulacrae

Find us

 

Author Pages with all of our contact info

Zendead 

Joules 

Guard-a-manger
And Thanks to Merriam-Webster  and Online Etymology Dictionary for our Lexicon segment

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